The FTC Will Regulate Blogs – Unethical Bloggers Beware

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regulation-truthIf you’re a blogger and you write reviews, I would hope you’re already above board.  If not… you might want to consider whipping up some sort of disclosure policy.

This is a pretty big deal for the blogging community – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it is now regulating bloggers.  This very post is now being held to a certain set of standards.  They may be a little vague and largely unenforceable, but at least we finally have some standards.

Most of the FTC’s new rules for blogging have to do with advertising and disclosure.  Primarily, bloggers cannot accept freebies or payment in exchange for positive reviews without disclosing it.

Awesome.  Now we just need to figure out a way to enforce this.

It’s important to point out that these aren’t actual laws.  They are more like interpretations of laws that can have serious consequences if not followed—you could face sanctions or a lawsuit.

One of the new rules states that testimonial advertising can no longer hide behind the famous “results not typical” claim.  That means that a diet pill website can’t show video of Cindy raving about all those pounds she dropped by taking the pill unless those results are actually typical.  Of course, we still need to iron out what “typical” actually means.  Is it 50% of customers?  75%?

Clearly this new rule about testimonials is aimed at all the shady weight-loss scammers—you know… the sort of people who are likely to completely ignore this kind of FTC rule.  It’s a step in the right direction, at least.

You have to give the FTC credit for stepping into the fray.  There is definitely a problem with nondisclosure on blog reviews… no doubt.  And testimonial advertising has long been plagued by the advertisers’ ability to fudge the claims via tiny disclaimers.  I’m thrilled to see the government doing something about it—or at least trying to do something about it.

And I’m sure these new guidelines will impact video reviews in some way.  Video reviews are really no different than product reviews in a blog post, and I would think that even if you post your videos on YouTube you will be subject to the same disclosure rules.  The point is that the FTC doesn’t want unethical reviews online.  These guidelines will be refined moving forward, and we can expect more specific language on video in the future.  For now, it’s probably best to treat video reviews as blog posts in terms of how the FTC wants you to behave.

My only complaint is that maybe they didn’t go far enough.  How can they hope to police this thing?  Shady testimonial ads are easy enough to have reported and investigated.  But it’s going to be pretty tough to prove that a blogger got some sort of kickback in exchange for praising a product or service.  And what about reviews that aren’t blog posts, such as Amazon reviews?  Don’t tell me you thought those were all just truthful opinions of real consumers.

So ultimately, what the FTC has done is stand in front of the class and ask us all nicely to please tell the truth.  Something tells me that some bloggers won’t change a thing.   But hey… at least there’s finally a teacher in the classroom.


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