The FTC Will Regulate Blogs   Unethical Bloggers Beware regulation truth If you're a blogger and you write reviews, I would hope you're already above board.  If not… you might want to consider whipping up some sort of disclosure policy.

This is a pretty big deal for the blogging community - The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it is now regulating bloggers.  This very post is now being held to a certain set of standards.  They may be a little vague and largely unenforceable, but at least we finally have some standards.

Most of the FTC's new rules for blogging have to do with advertising and disclosure.  Primarily, bloggers cannot accept freebies or payment in exchange for positive reviews without disclosing it.

Awesome.  Now we just need to figure out a way to enforce this.

It's important to point out that these aren't actual laws.  They are more like interpretations of laws that can have serious consequences if not followed—you could face sanctions or a lawsuit.

One of the new rules states that testimonial advertising can no longer hide behind the famous "results not typical" claim.  That means that a diet pill website can't show video of Cindy raving about all those pounds she dropped by taking the pill unless those results are actually typical.  Of course, we still need to iron out what "typical" actually means.  Is it 50% of customers?  75%?

Clearly this new rule about testimonials is aimed at all the shady weight-loss scammers—you know… the sort of people who are likely to completely ignore this kind of FTC rule.  It's a step in the right direction, at least.

You have to give the FTC credit for stepping into the fray.  There is definitely a problem with nondisclosure on blog reviews… no doubt.  And testimonial advertising has long been plagued by the advertisers' ability to fudge the claims via tiny disclaimers.  I'm thrilled to see the government doing something about it—or at least trying to do something about it.

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And I'm sure these new guidelines will impact video reviews in some way.  Video reviews are really no different than product reviews in a blog post, and I would think that even if you post your videos on YouTube you will be subject to the same disclosure rules.  The point is that the FTC doesn't want unethical reviews online.  These guidelines will be refined moving forward, and we can expect more specific language on video in the future.  For now, it's probably best to treat video reviews as blog posts in terms of how the FTC wants you to behave.

My only complaint is that maybe they didn't go far enough.  How can they hope to police this thing?  Shady testimonial ads are easy enough to have reported and investigated.  But it's going to be pretty tough to prove that a blogger got some sort of kickback in exchange for praising a product or service.  And what about reviews that aren't blog posts, such as Amazon reviews?  Don't tell me you thought those were all just truthful opinions of real consumers.

So ultimately, what the FTC has done is stand in front of the class and ask us all nicely to please tell the truth.  Something tells me that some bloggers won't change a thing.   But hey… at least there's finally a teacher in the classroom.

  • so tired….

    I'm inclined to think the government should start worrying about more important issues. Quite a few of these same ads that you may be pointing towards are seen on television constantly as either regular commercials or the infomercials that plague our weekends on network T.V. These television ads will still pay networks and the actors correct, so what if a blogger is getting paid to write a review in that case. Then there's radio and magazines... i guess, that the internet isn't really a valid form of entertainment or a resource of information that is used by nearly everyone and advertisors shouldn't be allowed to pay someone to say they like their product even though it happens in every other form of media we have.
    I guess you can say, I'm just tired of this government thinking they can put their rule on everything we have. Slowly our freedoms are being lost and it seems like it won't be long before we're just another communist country who's citizens aren't allowed to profit for themselves and try to make the best out of the life they are living.

  • Grant Crowell

    I would recommend reading Jeff Jarvis' counterpoint on the FTC at his blog piece –

  • Tim Danyo

    Do we really need internet regulators for this? I understand the reasoning behind it, but this should be left up to the blogger to do willfully and the audience to keep watch. You will always have people who don't abide by the rules. You will always have cheaters. They were cheaters before and they will continue to game the system regardless of an FTC rule. Short term, it might sound like a good idea, but long term, we are letting government regulators into a free and open system and telling us what the rules are. There is already an unspoken rule of being upfront and real with your audience. It's the common law of the internet.

  • Bart Gibby

    Guess I'll need to make sure all my blogs have a disclosure statement... just to be sure I am covered. Everyone should do it even if you don't take things from peeps. Problem with the internet people can give you things without you even knowing it, links for example. Wonder if they'll start to count those in the future.

  • R_vd_Boogaard

    Thanks, I realised something was up with the FTC, after Jeff Jarvis started sending out masses of tweets earlier this week:

    Makes me wonder about one thing, though - what is the jurisdiction of the FTC? And how does that match with the international aspects of the internet? It seems like this teacher in front of the classroom is only able to police those that are required to attend school.

  • Jeff Dixon

    This FTC story is kind of timely. Recently a friend of mine sent me a youtube link featuring a raging, offensive young man who goes by the handle of "skoal rebel". If the name doesn't tell you most of what you need to know, I would describe him as Larry the Cable Guy meets David Duke.
    But here's the curious thing. Even during drunken stupors, Skoal Rebel seems to be very good at product placement, often holding up cans up smokeless tobacco products in front of the lens.
    I bet my friend that this is a guerilla marketing campaign done by someone in the tobacco industry. That in and of itself may not be a huge surprise, but if a large company is circumventing the law and sponsoring racists rhetoric, that is a big deal. And a great story. I've been trying to get a hold of Thano Chaltas, VP of Marketing for the USST (basically a tobacco marketing association). I haven't had any luck so far.