Blogger Beware

Advertising Age reports that the Federal Trade Commission is brainstorming its next, wonderfully bad idea:

As part of its review of its advertising guidelines, the FTC is proposing that word-of-mouth marketers and bloggers, as well as people on social-media sites such as Facebook, be held liable for any false statements they make about a product they're promoting, along with the product's marketer....

Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's advertising-practices division, said the commission is updating the guidelines to stay in step with evolving marketing practices. "The commission is attempting to update guidelines that are 30 years old so that they address current marketing techniques," he said...

The new regulations could reflect the FTC's sense of parental concern for the Internet's growing litter of avatars. That, or, as the Financial Times notes:

Advertisers have increased spending on social media and word-of-mouth campaigns, even during the recession. Through blogs and services such as Facebook and Twitter, companies are able to communicate more directly with consumers. Spending on social media marketing reached $1.35bn in 2007 and is expected to reach $3.7bn by 2011, according to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

Naturally, the advertising industry has taken issue with the proposed changes. They worry that the regulations could limit innovation in an area in which no one has a clear understanding.  In a letter to the FTC, Richard O'Brien, vice-president of American Association of Advertising Agencies, criticized the proposed regulations, saying:

Regulating these developing media too soon may have a chilling effect on blogs and other forms of viral marketing, as bloggers and other viral marketers will be discouraged from publishing content for fear of being held liable for any potentially misleading claim.

Apart from the difficulty the FTC will have in preventing a Brazilian blogger from extolling the wonders of penis pills, the Internet already has a regulatory agency watching out for consumers and keeping companies in check. It's called other Internet users.

Yesterday, the blogsphere began to rumble after Amazon.com took down sale rank numbers for books it deemed to be of "adult" nature, including Heather Has Two Mommies, Brokeback Mountain, and Dude, You're A Fag. Incidentally, the site didn't exclude rankings for Ron Jeremy: The Hardest Working Man in Showbiz or A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Bloggers called it an attack on homosexuality and Amazon has since apologized for the "glitch". And in February, Associate Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote about the freakout by Facebook users over the new Terms of Service, which forced the company to apologize and backpedal.

While neither uproar is an example of bloggers being paid to hawk products, the incidences demonstrate how the Internet already has a watchdog group that is fluid and organic by nature. Rest assured, for every whored-out blogger trolling cyberspace, there are five other bloggers calling B.S. and issuing customer warnings. Not only that, but the service is usually done for free and with pride.

[Disclaimer: As Reason's Burton C. Gray Memorial Intern, I receive a "Freedom Stipend" for which I willingly hawk free minds and free markets]    

In 2000, contributor James K. Glassman explained regulatory recession. All things FTC here.

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  • Paul||

    Open letter to the FTC, FCC, Senate, Congress, POTUS and any other regulatory agency not specifically mentioned here:

    The internet works. Keeps your fucking hands off. That is all.

  • kinnath||

    [Disclaimer: As Reason's Burton C. Gray Memorial Intern, I receive a "Freedom Stipend" for which I willingly hawk free minds and free markets]

    Welcome to the mosh pit, dude.

  • phalkor||

    nobody ever welcomed me to a mosh pit. awww, hamburgers...

  • Ravac||

    ...along with the product's marketer....

    The FTC's regulations cause baldness and anal leakage.

    Like that?

  • VM||

    Yesterday, the blogsphere began to rumble after Amazon.com took down sale rank numbers for books it deemed to be of "adult" nature, including Heather Has Two Mommies...



    yeah - that sweaty pillow fight scene on page 69 of the leather-bound version...

    *heads to Stevo's bunk*

  • ||

    The one thing that we can all rely on is that unless the major governments of the world want to go full police state--and most just want police state light--they can't regulate the internet. It's basically impossible. And it's also an area where people really will freak out if you fuck with it. Ban smokes? People don't care. Fuck with their porn and music downloads? HOLY SHIT FREAKOUT.

  • ||

    I'm glad that they're moving on to this after getting rid of spam once and for all.

  • Xeones||

    Yo, fuck the FTC.

  • ||

    You mean it's not going to get any bigger if I keep taking these pills? OK. Time for plan B - buy more guns.

  • ||

    Jeff Winkler is shilling for Big series of tubes.

  • Planter||

    Adult film star Marilyn Chambers dies at 56:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/04/13/entertainment/e113715D45.DTL&tsp=1

  • brec||

    Can't find an email address for Jeff, so...

    While neither uproar is an example of bloggers being paid to hawk products, the incidences demonstrate...

    incidents

  • High Every Body||

    Planter,

    She was found Behind the Green Door of her home.

  • Mad Max||

    Wow, that was certainly an interesting post!

    Almost as interesting as my combination privacy-protection software and male organ enhancement -

    www.privatedick.buythisstuffnowplease.com

  • Taktix®||

    I can't wait to see the joke that 4chan and Anonymous make of this...

  • New World Dan||

    I'm not really sure why this is necessary. If there is a prohibition on false advertising, does it matter what the marketing channel is? Special laws shouldn't be required for the internet. They should work in the abstract.

  • ||

    Fuck with their porn and music downloads? HOLY SHIT FREAKOUT.

    Like they fight the ever-larger hand in their wallet?

    Based on the past 100 years, probably wishful thinking. It'll be grudgingly accepted, even as it reaches farther and farther. Too few people are willing to make a target out of themselves, even risk it anonymously. Decades later few people will even realize what they've lost or that it could actually be any other way.

  • economist||

    MIR,
    I predict that in ten years, anyone who suggests that this should be reversed will be referred to as "one of those libertarian nuts".

  • jtuf||

    The FTC crackdown on viral advertising makes sense. Add those precedents to campaign finance laws and they've laid the groundwork for going after political blogging.

    A court case in 2020: Your honor, we caught the defendent talking about politics in a public park. We have reason to believe he gained unreported material benifit from his advocacy.

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