Monday, October 12, 2009

Is This Mike On? Can You Hear Me in the Back?

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.


Orchid64 said...

I do wonder how reviews, glowing or otherwise, are received based on whether or not a product is free. Do readers take a positive review less seriously if the product was free? I don't believe that I do, though I tend to read reviewers who do not fear giving bad reviews for freebies (and who state products were free).

I get nothing for free so this does not affect people like me, but I do review for the Amazon Vine program where I can get free items for Amazon reviews. Amazon tags all Vine reviews as such so people know the difference between those who paid for a product and those who did not. One of the things that happens is that a lot of people will tag the Vine reviews as "unhelpful" out of resentment for those people getting the product for nothing.

Based on that experience, I do wonder if saying you got something for free may undermine your credibility. It shouldn't, of course, but there are a lot of people out there who feel reviewers are "bribed" by freebies or simply just get upset because you got something for nothing and they didn't.

CandyProfessor said...

Thanks for writing about this, I agree there are definitely bigger fish to fry. When it comes to the candy blogs, I think there is a spirit of positive attitude and focusing on the good side. Which is not to say that everybody always loves everything; I like the fact that we don't all agree, we have different tastes and different ideas. And the stakes are pretty low, candy is cheap and if I buy something and it turns out to be terrible, well it's not that big of a deal. So if the reviews are more positive because products are free, I guess I don't have such a huge problem with that, I'm still deciding what to buy and what to eat, and those reviews are just one piece of a bigger picture.

Rosa said...

Good points, many of them echoed in another Times piece today