Monday, August 31, 2009

FTC to Monitor Blog Reviews

FTC to Monitor Blog Reviews

Just when you thought the government couldn't get anymore involved with your life, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has decided to take a stab at regulating blogging. This would be the first time that the government has tried to control what is said or done on individual blogs. Their reasoning is that many people go online each day to search for "everyday Joes and Janes'" reviews of certain products before making a decision about purchasing them themselves and that often times, bloggers who post reviews of products aren't disclosing the perks or any payments they are receiving for making such reviews. They claim bloggers are receiving "free laptops, trips to Europe, $500 gift cards or even thousands of dollars" for 200-word blog posts.

While the FTC sees this as troublesome, most of the blogosphere (on both sides of the political aisle) sees it as, well, ridiculous, and many of them are taking to their blogs and pointing out the reasons. Many of them are claiming that no company has ever approached them, asking them to take part in such a deal and they probably never will. As Ed Morrissey of Hot Air points out, if it were the case, it wouldn't exactly be cost-effective for the companies doing the paying,

No one has ever approached me to write a blogpost for “thousands of dollars”, not at 200 words or 20,000 words, to sell a product or not. If there are bloggers making that kind of money for 200 words, well, God bless you. I don’t know who’d be foolish enough to make that kind of offer. Maybe it’s from the new Government Motors marketing department, because I’m not sure the blog exists that can generate the sales necessary to make that a cost-effective strategy.

Millions of people across the United States have blogs and most of the little guys are probably thinking this program would only apply to the bigger, more notable blogs. The government would never be interested in the blog where you post pictures of your baby's first birthday or your fantasy football scores, right? Think again. The FTC cites a popular program with Amazon that allows bloggers to post links to their favorite books, movies, and music, and receive a very small percentage if one of their readers purchases the item based on the blogger's recommendation. Harmless enough and most people who are intelligent enough to be reading a blog probably understand this concept without having to be informed about it by the government. Furthermore, no one has ever made "thousands of dollars" through this Amazon program.

But the government sees it differently. The FTC sees this as pulling one over on your readers and basically assumes blog readers are unable to think for themselves. As Morrissey and others point out, if a blogger wants to maintain their readership, they must remain credible and that is a task that is up to the blogger, not the government. When readers begin to realize that a blog is not credible, they'll get their political opinion or celebrity gossip elsewhere. It's one of the few places where the free market is truly allowed to be free these days, but for how long? Anyone in the United States can create an unlimited number of blogs and say or do almost whatever they want with them, but with new government regulations like this being examined, you have to wonder if those days are numbered.

Says Morrissey,

This is the equivalent of using a bazooka to kill a fly. If the trade and consumer issues in the US are resolved to the point where the FTC’s biggest problem is bloggers recommending books and DVDs to their readers, they’ve just made the argument for their dissolution.

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