FTC Hopes To Issue Blogger Guidelines By Year End

Posted on Thu 07/23/2009 by

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By Wendy Davis, of the Daily Online Examiner

The Federal Trade Commission has been considering a controversial update to testimonial guidelines that would require bloggers and other online commenters to disclose any connections they have to marketers. If the FTC goes through with the proposal, bloggers would have to reveal when they’re paid per post by a marketer. But they would also have to disclose when they’ve received free review copies — even though newspapers, magazines and other mainstream media aren’t subject to similar requirements.

This morning, the FTC’s consumer protection chief David Vladeck told lawmakers that the agency is still reviewing the controversial proposal. “A material connection between a consumer promoting a product and the company that makes the product might affect the weight or credibility of the consumer endorsement, and therefore should be disclosed,” he said in prepared testimony at a Senate hearing about advertising trends and consumer protection. But, he added, the subject is “difficult and complex.”

Clearly, there’s a difference between taking money to say nice things about a company — such as by giving it a positive write-up or crafting a fictional testimonial — and accepting a copy of a product in order to review it. Perhaps all critics in all media should say when they receive a product — or movie tickets, CDs, or restaurant meals — for free.

But bloggers and consumers have the same First Amendment right to express their opinions as newspaper critics do. And if newspaper critics aren’t legally required to disclose when they receive free sample copies, there’s no justification for requiring bloggers to do so.

Vladeck said today that the FTC hopes to issue final guides by the end of the year.

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