It looks like the sky is falling again.
Yesterday the FTC announced that, “beginning on Dec. 1, bloggers who review products must disclose any connection with advertisers, including, in most cases, the receipt of free products and whether or not they were paid in any way by advertisers, as occurs frequently.” Immediately bloggers, Twitterers, and Message board trolls whipped themselves into a fervor over the regulations announced by the FTC.
I don’t get it.
Do people not read anymore? Has it really come to a point where people take a headline and run with their anti-whatever mentality without actually reading the issue/article/ruling/judgment for themselves to see if they even disagree? Just because you may sit on one side of the political pyramid doesn’t mean that you automatically agree or disagree with a statement or ruling based on whether something is said by a governing body or not. We rail against people who don’t think before they vote, or who don’t bother to get the facts when it comes to an election, so why is it any different when it comes to regulations? We’ve become a country of knee jerk reactionists who want everything to fall in line with our personal ideologies, and if it doesn’t, regardless of the inherent value of the idea, it’s wrong and bad, and it will cause your children to grow up godless and destitute—or worse yet, as humanitarians or socialists! FOR SHAME!
I honestly expected more from the Social Media community. Maybe I was naive.
First, read the damn ruling.
The first three sections review the commission’s examination of the guides, the comments on proposed revisions by interested representative parties, and then gives a description of each change to proposed guides published in 2008. The comments (section II) are worth reading. The revised Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising are section IV. They start on page 55. READ THEM.
Second, establish whether your argument is based on puffed up political ego for the sake of making a point, or on the actual issue of deceitful practices. If you just want to grandstand about a political viewpoint, please move along… nothing left for you to see here… If you have a blog, if you’ve ever reviewed something that was sent to you by a company, if you aren’t sure where you stand because you don’t know how it effects you, then please continue reading.
Where do you fall? Why does it matter? What is the purpose of your blog? Is reviewing X Product/s the primary purpose of the blog? Do you consistently receive products (in my case, books) to review? Is the editorial independence of your blog clear if you are not endorsing a company/product? Are reviews likely to be negative as well as positive?
Are you a blogger who has joined a pay-per-post community? Are you part of a “group” that is compensated by companies to endorse (speak highly of their product regardless of perceived value/quality) their product? Do you receive “gifts” because you are part of a blogging network or community in the hopes that you’ll tell your readers how wonderful a product is (i.e. free advertisement and “word of mouth” endorsement based on your perceived trust level with your readers)? Do you routinely review products from the same company positively in order to continue receiving comp products in exchange for your visible approval of their company/product? Do your readers know that the car you just got, or the phone you’re raving about was given to you with the understanding that you would tell them how glorious it was whether you felt that way or not?
Like it or not, the FTC is forcing companies and bloggers to be ethical in their interactions with their consumers. It’s not about censorship or telling bloggers what to say or what not to say. It’s about fair practice and ethics. The government isn’t dictating what you can or can’t say on your blog. Anyone who sees that clearly isn’t reading the document. It’s about fair business and advertising practice. It’s about stopping companies and individual bloggers who are profiting off of their readership & consumer base through deceitful means. If you receive “gifts” or “comps” from companies to review and your review is as likely to be negative as it is positive, and your readership is aware of this, that’s one thing. If your blog is a personal blog dedicated to the life of your prize beagle, and Alpo begins sending you products for free with the understanding that you will continue receiving these products as long as you speak highly of the company, and you never disclose that relationship or business transaction (and it IS a business transaction) to your audience then you are misleading them. Would your readers think differently of the value of your opinion on those products if they knew of your arrangement?
Look, if you want to shill for a company, that’s fine. If you want to play in the Pay-Per-Post pool, that’s fine too. But do NOT make waves about being considered a BRAND and then balk when you’re expected to follow the same ethics and standards that businesses are expected to follow. If you have nothing to hide, then why the big fuss about the disclaimer? Well… if you receive a car, or a computer, or a trip around the world and then rave about the magnificence of the car, computer, and travel company and you never disclose it as a “gift”… or as a “business transaction,” well then, it’s not just your audience that you have to worry about, now is it?