The federal government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to set a fine of up to $11,000 on bloggers who are paid to write reviews and fail to disclose it.
In the first update to the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising in 29 years, the FTC has included the following language:
Bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
The update also says this:
The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement.
The effect here could be pretty sweeping. The most obvious application of something like this would be pay-per-post arrangements like that from Izea or ReviewMe. The way it is phrased, though, seems to include the common practice of sending review units to bloggers for review. Does this mean that you have to disclose when a company sends you a product for review or else be subject to a fine?
Is This Necessary?
Such an update is only natural. A lot has changed since 1980. The word “blog” didn’t even exist back then, so it could be argued that the FTC has to adapt. The devil could come in how it is applied.
Personally, I don’t think it is necessary. I think the free market takes care of this problem far faster and far more efficiently than a government bureaucracy. The moment one discovers a quid pro quo for a review, the entire reputation of a blogger is cast into question. Those kinds of people don’t usually last long, and the backlash can be severe in the social media circles.
Have you ever seen the itchy trigger finger on Twitter alone in some circles when an affiliate link is tweeted?
Plus, at the end of the day, the government is about the most inefficient and unsuccessful group – EVER. Pretty much everything they do turns to crap. Do we really want the FTC using blunt (and ill-informed) force to inject itself into a constantly evolving new media that it is pretty much guaranteed not to understand? Are we going to see forms and reports that bloggers are forced to fill out on threat of jail? After all, how is any of this information going to reach the FTC?
On the surface, I can see that this is a natural update. When I look deeper, I see a potential can of worms. Is it just me?