Monday, June 22, 2009

FTC to monitor bloggers for "conflicts of interest"

On Monday, June 22, The Washington Times ran an AP story by Deborah Yao, “FTC to Patrol Bloggers: Product Reviews, payments under Fire,” with link here. I could not readily find the story at AP’s own hosted site.

The Federal Trade Commission will issue regulations later this summer that would allow it to pursue bloggers who receive under the table payments from vendors and write reviews about these products or services. It seems unclear how the regulations would be implemented and exactly what practices would be deemed illegal. Bloggers might have to disclose if they were compensated to review a product.

The article suggests that affiliate marketing could be affected, although it doesn’t make sense (to me, at least) that systems that deliver ads automatically, and not under the control of the blogger, would be affected.

For example, my blogs offer movie and book reviews; but to any regulator who makes any effort at all to peruse my review blogs, it would become apparent that I cover a wide range of media from a diverse universe or publishers and distributors and do not favor any particular company. I even try to cover a wide ranger of viewpoints on political and social issues. I have never accepted payment from a particular company to write favorably about their products or services on the web.

The article suggests that even the practice of providing direct links (as for Amazon purchases) could bring scrutiny. I only do that for reader convenience, not for compensation.

The “establishment” press has strict rules against reporters’ accepting compensation from the subjects that they write about. In a few cases, reporters have been transferred out of certain areas where there is a perceived conflict of interest. For example, in Tacoma, Washington an openly lesbian reporter was involuntarily transferred to a copy-editing position for publicly visible gay-related political activities on her own time. The state supreme court ruled for the newspaper in February 1997, on the grounds that a newspaper needs to protect its public appearance of objectivity in reporting news.

The new story about FTC involvement reminds one of the flap a few years ago about the concerns that bloggers could confound campaign finance reform, a concern that was addressed by relaxed rules in 2006.

The FTC does not appear to have a reference for this new area of "regulation" yet; the closest I could find today was the "Dot con" link here.

The Style Coalition has been promoting self-regulating by bloggers to become more professional. The New York Observer has an article by Gillian Reagan, Feb. 9, 2009, "Fashion Bloggers Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Pariah Status," link here.

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