FTC meddles in blogger content, free speech

More big government. The FTC says basically anyone receiving anything (due to broad, poorly-written regulations) must pay an $11,000 fine.

The Federal Trade Commission will require bloggers to clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products.

It is the first time since 1980 that the commission has revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials, and the first time the rules have covered bloggers.

But the commission stopped short today of specifying how bloggers must disclose any conflicts of interest.

The FTC said its commissioners voted, 4-0, to approve the final guidelines, which had been expected. Penalties include up to $11,000 in fines per violation.

The rules take effect Dec. 1.

Because Uncle Sam think the public is too stupid to make decisions alone or to recognize endorsements verses common reviews. So if a company sends you a dollar-store toy, you will be scrutinized by the government, regardless whether you were asked to post a review or not. The FTC was very clear in their repeated use of “case by case basis” in their report.

Decisions about violations will be made on a case-by-case basis, but if someone receives cash or an in-kind payment to review a product, it’s considered an endorsement.

The government is attempting to put all website, both personal and professional, under its thumb under the guise of protecting consumers from dishonest bloggers and bloggers from dishonest companies. It shows a lack of faith in both the public and the blogging community which has been doing just fine and doesn’t welcome the bureaucracy. This is all about the Benjamins in the name of regulation. Uncle Sam saw a way to make money while controlling speech.

Finally, the Commission disagrees with those who suggest that including in the Guides
examples based on these new media would interfere with the vibrancy of these new forms of
communication, or that the Commission should, instead, defer to industry self-regulation.
Whether or not the Guides include examples based on these new media does not affect the
potential liability of those who use these media to market their products and services. The
Guides merely elucidate the Commission’s interpretation of Section 5, but do not expand (or
limit) its application to various forms of marketing.
[…]
And although industry self-regulation certainly can play an important role in protecting consumers as these new forms of marketing continue to evolve and new ones are developed, self-regulation works best when it is backed up by a strong law enforcement presence. [my emphasis]

Sadly, in terms of social media, their argument is wholly unsupported by facts. The blogosphere polices itself rather well and those who lack transparency in marketing lose their audiences and the community isn’t above cannibalizing one of their own for the sake of keeping the practice pure. We don’t need bureaucrats dictating our own content policies. Granted, there are some who aren’t as transparent as others, but they’re usually not skilled enough to disguise it. I myself receive free items regularly and it’s always been my own personal policy to disclose this, which I have. I’ve refused offers from companies who’ve suggested that I act otherwise. I created this self-policing policy because I, like most other bloggers, realize that our reputations are virtual currency.

The Commission recognizes that many other hypotheticals could be posited that would be far more difficult to answer; those will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

I wonder who will determine each case and how much extra that will cost taxpayers?

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