We spent a lot of time talking about the FTC blogger guidelines when they were proposed and approved over the last several months. The new rules, in case you missed the news, went into effect a few days ago, with more or less a whimper. A few bloggers made note of the event, and some, like Louis Gray, noted what we’ve talked about from the beginning: that these rules aren’t enforceable in today’s world.
I won’t even waste my time reading every word of the FTC’s script, but other folks, including SiliconAngle’s Mark Hopkins have done the dirty work. The obvious places to disclose are, of course, in blog posts, and in Tweets. But what about other people’s content, where I can add visibility to their own comments, even if I was not the original author?
For example, should I not "Like" comments by the client or other shares of the client’s work that others have made on Facebook and FriendFeed? Is it assumed that I would only "like" a post about a feature release because of the relationship? What about adding their items to Delicious or other networks?
In today’s real-time ecosystem, a like on an item can be more powerful than any other action, and there’s no way to disclose. If I like an item on Friendfeed, it get’s tweeted out to the 5000 or so people who follow me on Twitter, and potentially shared to several hundred on Google Reader, and syndicated to Facebook to a few hundred other folks. I’m just a medium-sized fish, though, and that’s just one push-button syndication path. The number of people that can be impacted by a similar action by a Mike Arrington, Robert Scoble, or even an Ashton Kutcher, would be difficult to measure.
The new FTC guidelines don’t really address these types of activities, but the assumption is that if they don’t like it, they’re going to err on the side of suing your butt (or your client’s butt), instead of leniency.
That’s why it’s particularly irritating to see there be no regulations in place for Heritage Media in these new guidelines, particularly when what would be considered to be a “flagrant violation” for a blogger is taking place in the domain of Old Media. From today’s Techdirt about my hometown newpaper:
John Obeidin points us to the news that The Dallas News has basically wiped away the standard "church" and "state" separation of journalists and ad sales and has reorganized such that editorial and journalism positions now report to ad sales managers (nicely renamed "general managers"). Of course, historically, newspapers have always been clear to separate the two. There’s no reason why this needs to be the case, but it can certainly raise questions about the objectivity of the reporting.
Certainly, just because the journo’s report to the ad guys doesn’t mean impropriety is taking place, but isn’t that lack of separation the exact reason why the FTC felt it was imperative to “preserve journalistic integrity” and “save the consumers from the writers”?