FTC Media Roundup: The Good, the Bad and the Indifferent

image The Federal Trade Commission released regulations that can best be described as a landgrab to punish small media producers on the web and clamp down on free speech. Before we jump into that, the opinions around the web are piling up, and I thought I’d round those up for you before we jump into my written analysis of the guidelines (though, if you’re interested in listening to the analysis we have here at SiliconANGLE, feel free to listen to this podcast from Sean P. Aune, Steven Hodson and I).

Anti-FTC:

StarterTech / Sean P. Aune: FTC Launches New Guidelines For Blogs

Mediactive / Dan Gillmor: A Dangerous Federal Intervention in Social Media

So with laudable goals, the commission issued revised rules (390k pdf) aimed at better disclosure — with penalties of up to $11,000 in fines for violations. Basically, the FTC is saying that if you have a “material connection” to a product or service you’re praising, you are an endorser who must disclose that connection.

ComputerWorld / Robert L. Mitchell: Whapped by WEP: Dangerously defective security still being sold

Buzzmachine / Jeff Jarvis: FTC regulates our speech 

Jeff Jarvis echos the sentiments and quote I gave at the end of the show I recorded today:

What I now truly dread is that the FTC is holding hearings about journalism on Dec. 1 and 2. As Star-Ledger editor Jim Willse (full disclosure: he hired me a few times) said in my Guardian podcast last month (full disclosure: I work for the Guardian): the words, “we’re from the government, we’re here to help,” should be met with trepidation.

TechMamas / Beth B.: FTC Guidelines Are Out: FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials

Best disclosure ever:

Disclosure: This is not a paid post, that is unless the FTC starts paying bloggers – which they would never of course. This is a reaction I had to turning on my computer this morning and seeing the chatter all over Twitter about the FTC guidelines and trying to understand them myself. Hope I disclosed that correctly.

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Neutral:

WaPo / Cecilia Kang: FTC: Bloggers, Research Studies Must Cite Ties To Advertisers

ZDNet / Sam Diaz: FTC targets bloggers for disclosure about perks, freebies

Regardless, I have mixed feelings about the need for government intervention via the FTC’s once-every-29-years-update to its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, a document meant to ensure that consumers aren’t fooled by an “unbiased review” of a product when the company itself actually paid the reviewer. Of course, that’s not to say that such a review is written differently because of who signed the check – but perception goes a long way, doesn’t it?

SearchEngineLand / Nathania Johnson: FTC Sets New Guidelines for Blogger Endorsements and Word-of-Mouth Marketing

CNet News / Caroline McCarthy: FTC to bloggers: Fess up or pay up

ZDNet / Richard Koman: FTC publishes final rules on blogger payola, endorsements

David Risley: Disclose or Pay Us $11,000, Says FTC

Betanews / Scott M. Fulton, III: FTC: Bloggers must disclose material connections to endorsed products

 

Pro-FTC:

Mashable / Adam Ostrow: FTC to Fine Bloggers up to $11,000 for Not Disclosing Payments

My friend, Adam Ostrow, completely misses the boat on the new FTC rules.

Certainly, it seems like this is an update that’s time has come. While most well-run social media programs already include appropriate disclosure, there’s still no shortage of unscrupulous marketers using deceptive practices to sell products. Now, with the threat of serious fines, those who look to push the boundaries of ethical blogging will be doing so at their own risk.

Seriously? Where is this unsavory cadre of bloggers out there pimping stuff without disclosing relationships?  Do they work for major blogs?  Are they part of the Skull and Bones like conspiracies? They all blog on the sly without disclosing, and that’s why we don’t know?

If that’s the fact, how will the FTC find these shysters?

Techcrunch / Brian Solis: FTC Values Sponsored Conversations at $11,000 Apiece.

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Although Brian will no doubt say he’s not pro-FTC, just like the first time around (until we at SiliconANGLE called him to the carpet on his seemingly pro-FTC stance), yet again he’s published a piece at TC that sounds ambiguously pro-FTC. He buried the lede and was far to soft on the FTC. Should he subsequently harden his stance, I’ll move him to the neutral or anti categories.

Buried at the bottom is the sentence:

“While I agree with the need for disclosure in sponsored posts and tweets, the FTC’s inability to see blogging as a bona fide publishing channel comprised of expert writers and pundits in addition to those consumers willing to exchange content for compensation, is incredibly hazardous.”

The following quote, though, is priceless:

“Disclosure is also required in these new mediums. It should also be noted that these companies are working with the FTC and Twitter to help create a fair set of standards around disclosure, as well as the technology framework to effectively disclose sponsored Tweets.”

Oh, fantastic.  Two organizations (Twitter and the US Government) that can’t figure out how to make money getting together trying to figure out the best way for me, a blogger, to make money. Color me unimpressed.

iLounge / Jeremy Horwitz: Great News: The FTC Finally Requires Payment-For-Review Disclosures

This has to be one of the most ignorant and offensive to my sensibilities post I’ve read throughout this whole thing:

iLounge isn’t a blog. Second, we’ve never taken a payment or a freebie in exchange for writing a review. Third, we are thrilled to see the FTC working on behalf of consumers to create transparency in product coverage, which has been plagued by tons of faked/compensated reviews over the last five or so years.

Everyone who writes on the Internet has a target on their back now.  No one is safe, unless you’re not-for-profit and don’t collect a paycheck. Ever. From anyone – blog related or not.

Here’s the Bottom Line

You can be certain we’ll produce more on this topic in the days and weeks to come.

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Having said that: this is a horrible set of guidelines.  As Sean said during our podcast on the topic, I have no use for anyone who thinks these guidelines are in any way a good idea.  It does to free speech on the web what the RIAA has done for the sharing of music.

Blogging and conversing on the web is now an $11k liability waiting to happen.

Simply because the FTC has the ability to monitor what we have to say online doesn’t give them the right to determine how we say it. My reputation is my own to squander, and if I choose to squander it by not disclosing personal relationships with companies, I should be allowed to do so.

This is a First Amendment issue. These guidelines are unconstitutional.

Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins

Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins is the Founding Editor of SiliconANGLE, as well as the creator of and Executive Producer for theCUBE. He’s aBitcoin early adopter, as well as a blogging, podcasting and social media pioneer. Prior the founding of SiliconANGLE, Hopkins worked as Associate Editor at Mashable during its formative years. Prior to his career in startups and media, he worked as a developer for large corporations like Nokia, IBM, Apple and Cox Communications. Hopkins lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife and two children.

9 Comments

  1. Hmm, if you are a de facto marketeer for a company you have a journalistic obligation to disclose that relationship. While I don’t think this set of rules is the answer, I do think that if “blogging” as a whole wants to be treated as real media, it needs to play by the same rules as everyone else.

  2. @Alex if blogging was to play by the same rules of ‘traditional media’ this subject wouldn’t even have come up. The ‘news industry’ has never been told by anyone let alone by a government agencies that they need to disclose anything whether it it be movie tickets, vehicles or tech toys.

  3. Not all bloggers are journalists. Period. Why are all bloggers being held to that standard?

  4. I think a more accurate statement is “Not all bloggers want to be considered journalists”. However, I think by the act of “publishing” to the web they/we are.

  5. You’re telling me that every emo vampire kid on myspace and livejournal should be held to journalistic standards? Really?

    I think you need to take a moment to try to understand the larger ecosystem of the web. Writing bad poetry about sparkle-y vampires isn’t journalism.

  6. @mark I don’t think it is the emo vampires that they are worried about, it is the blogs that appears as knowledgable information on select topics, you see alot of it in pharma forums, and things like hurt at work forums, run by lawyers out to gain clients, in these cases the site owners should disclose the relationship, and in fact usually do

  7. @Mockingbird: Alex made the absolutely absurd point that all bloggers are journalists. It only takes one example to show how ridiculous that is.

    Again, though, these forum participants aren’t masquerading as journalists, merely participants in the community. If they’re lying to sell a product our posing as doctors, there are already fraud and truth-in-advertising rules that address that (and much of the guidelines do address that – I have no problem with the FTC going after diet pill pushers).

    Bloggers, on the other hand, are a horse of a different color. The FTC said they intend to go after the indie bloggers who may get review units, as a specific example.

  8. I really like how you rounded up where people stand on this. Some are playing it down the middle some are being honest in their opinion.

    to defend my friend @alex i agree but rulemaking is not the issue – i see this being a bigger problem with twitter than blogging.

    On a more general note I’m really glad that we have a clear separation here at siliconangle and that we are focused on critical analysis and opinion.

    In my opinion the FTC decision will be a cluster f$%k

  9. Seems like a Tax Revenue play to me. While we’re busy protecting “free speech”, the tax revenue wagons are being circled. Am I wrong?

    Note: I don’t write a blog or receive anything monetary gain for writing this. ;-)

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