Choose one: New FTC blog post guidelines a) protect you b) kill free speech


Well, this is one of those times when the government acts and you get to chose your reaction. On the one hand, the emergence of the ‘net as the definitive source of reviews for everything from software to celery has become a bonanza for the shills of the world who review products for filthy lucre and who pretend or obscure that they’ve been bought.

On the other hand, while advertising isn’t a protected form of free speech, it’s sad that we need government intervention limiting speech to prevent these people from preying on grandma’s Google search for cookie dough.

Into this fray steps the FTC with new rules to take effect in December, 2009. (I’ve attached a PDF of the new rules to this post for your convenience.)

You can see the rules struggling to keep up with new and social media. That, in itself, is an interesting commentary on how technological innovation always outstrips government’s ability to keep pace, much less anticipate the impact of technological change. Consider this heavily parsed defintiion from the rules:

An advertiser’s lack of control over the specific statement made via these new forms of consumer-generated media would not automatically disqualify that statement from being deemed an “endorsement” within the meaning of the Guides….Thus, a consumer who purchases a product with his or her own money and praises it on a personal blog or on an electronic message board will not be deemed to be providing an endorsement.

In contrast, postings by a blogger who is paid to speak about an advertiser’s product will be covered by the Guides, regardless of whether the blogger is paid directly by the marketer itself or by a third party on behalf of the marketer.

…For example, a blogger could receive merchandise from a marketer with a request to review it, but with no compensation paid other than the value of the product itself. In this situation, whether or not any positive statement the blogger posts would be deemed an “endorsement” within the meaning of the Guides would depend on, among other things, the value of that product, and on whether the blogger routinely receives such requests.

You all clear on that now?



, ,



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *