Sorry folks, but this Federal Trade Commission dust up is going to be front and center at this blog for some time to come.
In all of the hoopla yesterday, Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins, Steven Hodson and myself ran into many instances of being questioned over our vehement hatred of the new guidelines, and also more examples of just how messed up this whole thing is.
“Print media is already under these rules.”
No, they aren’t.
This was the most tired argument I have seen, and it simply isn’t true. If this was true, I want you to point out to me where movie reviewers disclose that they got into a movie for free or got sent a DVD copy of the movie for free. We all know it happens, but have you ever seen them disclose it? Same goes for book, movie and DVD reviews.
Now, under these new FTC rules, if I decide to review anything, and if it was sent to me for free, then I have to write a disclosure every single time I do it. Tell me how these are the same rules traditional media has been under.
“Facebook and Twitter fall under these rules also.”
Yep, all that fun you have on social media sites? Well, prepare yourself to always disclose your relationship for any product you speak positively of.
Caroline McCarthy of CNET spoke with a Richard Cleland, associate director for the FTC’s advertising division, and here is the scenario he set up to explain the Facebook scenario:
Here’s a sample scenario: a celebrity or other prominent figure with loads of friends on Facebook receives free hotel says [sic] from Hotel Chain X in exchange for running Hotel Chain X ads on his or her blog. If that person then signs up as a Facebook fan of Hotel Chain X–which, remember, could mean that the person’s name can show up for his or her Facebook friends alongside Hotel Chain X display ads on the social network–he or she could be held liable by the FTC.
“It would be the same thing if you were going to pay the celebrity a thousand dollars to go register as a fan,” Cleland said. “In that case, there wouldn’t be any question about it.”
And as for new media darling Twitter?
As for Twitter, the FTC isn’t letting you get a pass with the excuse that 140 characters–Twitter’s famous text limit–is simply too short. “There are ways to abbreviate a disclosure that fit within 140 characters,” Cleland said. “You may have to say a little bit of something else, but if you can’t make the disclosure, you can’t make the ad.”
So, think you will be exempt from this if you aren’t a blogger. Too bad. If you have any sort of relationship with a product, and you make a comment anywhere on the Web about it, you better be prepared to disclose your relationship.
“This is all about going after sploggers.”
No, it isn’t.
In a discussion between Steven Hodson and Matt Cutts of Google on The Noisy Channel, they brought up the discussion of how this will cut out bad marketing:
Steven: “No degree of FTC intervention is going to make any difference to splogs or other such garbage…”
Matt: At a respected search conference last year, I sat in the audience and watched a presenter recommend “sock puppet” marketing by coming up with fake personas to promote products. With this new guidance from the FTC (plus similar recent guidance in the UK/EU against sock puppet marketing), that sort of bad advice will be much less likely to appear at search conferences. That’s one easy counter-example.
No, Matt, it isn’t. You are talking about advice given at a conference, big deal. The Sock Puppet marketers will simply start hiring people from Africa and India off of GetAFreelancer or other such sites and have them do that sort of marketing far from the reach of the USA, UK or EU.
And that is one of my biggest complaints about this whole thing is that the unethical people it is supposedly targeting will just find new ways of working around it, while those of us who follow ethical blogging and online presence will be saddled with these idiotic new rules, libing under fear of some little slip up costing us a potential $11,000 fine. Oh yeah, that makes things so much better.
“This will stop all those fake review sites.”
Are you kidding me?
Lets say that an “unethical” blogger is currently working out of the USA with their web site on servers that reside in the USA. They want to get away from these new rules so they move their site to servers in another country, they put privacy protection on their domain name and then they sit back.
The FTC finds them lacking disclosure, they will have to get a court order to reveal the name of the person who holds the ownership of the domain. So the FTC will have to weight taking the time to get the court order, and in some cases they will have to go through a court in another country, is it really worth all of that effort, time and taxpayer money for a possibly undisclosed material relationship? You guessed it, I would go with “no.” Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t try.
All of the “bad” sites will simply move off shore to countries that don’t care about all of this hoopla, and the innocent people will yet again be left to jumping through hoops that should have never been required.
“This system is ripe for abuse.”
Yes, it is.
We have no clue what the investigation process will be like yet, but what is to stop people from reporting you for fun or revenge? “Oh, hey, I think so-and-so has a relationship with that company they just posted abut on Facebook.” Oh won’t that be fun to defend yourself from false accusations? This is why some people will be better off even disclosing when they purchased something to cut off any possible questioning to avoid any sense in impropriety.
In other words, people will be so annoyed by having to watch their behinds that they simply won’t want to talk any more.
“Aren’t you worrying about this too much?”
No, I’m not.
I have done more reading today, and the tone of the conversations have changed quite a bit in the second day. Check out SiliconANGLE’s FTC vs. the Blogosphere Day 2 Roundup to get a better sense of what is being said everywhere. (disclosure: I am linked to in that article and I work for SiliconANGLE … see … won’t that get annoying?)
Also make sure to check out Steven Hodson’s questions that he is still waiting for answers to:
1. Will these same ‘guidelines’ be applied against “traditional media” and if not – why not?
2. What exact form do these disclosure need to take? Per post? Per page? Per comment?
3. Is this retroactive? Does this mean that sites like Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Mashable, – well every single blog past and present will have to go through all their archives and add a disclaimer. Because we all know that posts that are even months or years old can resurface.
4.Will book publishers make signing a disclosure form a part of bloggers doing book reviews and is it really worth the effort at that point?
5. Does the country of origin of the writer matter as to whether a disclosure is included?
6. Does it matter the country of origin of where the blog served from come into play?
7 Does the country of origin of the product, service or book come into play at all?
(disclaimer: I know Steven and make fun of his Canadian citizenship on a regular basis)
The FTC has got to start defining this whole thing better, but somehow I don’t see that coming any time soon.