I feel the need to take a moment to talk about the recent hullaballoo concerning the Federal Trade Commission and the new blogging rules.
In a nutshell, here’s the deal, with due credit to The New York Times: “Beginning on Dec. 1, bloggers who review products must disclose any connection with advertisers, including, in most cases, the receipt of free products and whether or not they were paid in any way by advertisers, as occurs frequently.” Punishments will range from written warnings to $11,000 fines.
I have mixed feelings on this.
First of all, I’ve always tried to point out when I’ve been given a product for review, as have many other bloggers that I know. Ethically, it seems the right thing to do. But I take offense that suddenly, as a writer for the Internet, I have to be upheld to “stronger” standards than say, magazines and newspapers. Supposedly “traditional media” has been held to these stiff standards all along, but believe me when I tell you-- every publication, every writer, editor and publisher-- has been offered free products, free trips, dinners, presents, etc., all in the name of marketing. If, for one second, you believe that there’s a separation of church and state (or in this case, editorial and sales) in any magazine, you are sadly mistaken.
So why is the FTC suddenly all over the blogosphere?
I’ll tell you why. Because the minority of less-than-ethical “bloggers” have tainted it for us all. Marketing shills, celebrities that endorse products, and fake testimonials have paved the way for government to stick its nose into what for many has, up until this point, been a hobby or, at times, a small income-generating labor of love.
But, like in all relationships, there are two sides to every story. What about the reader/consumer? Shouldn’t he have a responsibility as well to choose what he reads wisely? Whatever happened to Caveat Emptor? “Let the buyer beware” (or in this case, the reader), has suddenly turned into “Let the writer take all responsibility.”
For example, if I say a particular candy is the most delicious, scrumptious, yummalicious sweet out there, must you believe me? If I say I hate Rainbow Twizzlers to the core of my being, can you not disagree? (It all seems very silly to be talking about it in terms of candy. I'm quite certain that the FTC doesn't have it out for us chocoholics. Yet where does one draw the line? Is there a difference between a review of gummy worms versus a review of flat-screen TVs?)
While I agree that it will be good to rein in all those shifty operations out there, I also feel a bit like a mother bear. Back off of the blogosphere, FTC. Leave us little guys out of it. I can suggest plenty of places where you can focus your attention. Somehow I think your attention might be better focused on things like the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies, rather than mommy bloggers and book reviewers. But that’s just my opinion. And no one’s paid me (in cash or candy) to say it.