Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lobbyists blog under their own names, without disclosing funding sources

Cecilia Kang has an important story on the front page of The Washington Post on Saturday, April 24, 2010, “Tech lobbyists find a powerful disguise online” in print, “undercover persuasion by tech industry lobbyists” online, link here.

“K Street” lobbyists write under their own names to take positions on various issues, and hide their connections to lobbying or public relations firms or to trade groups or corporations that would benefit from the policy changes that their writings advocate. The practice has been particularly common with the network neutrality debate (on both sides), but has also happened with other issues, particularly health care reform where the position of health insurance companies is sensitive, and probably financial services reform and regulation on Wall Street.

The FTC has been trying to crack down on blogging that is paid for “behind the scenes”, especially with freebies. For example, bloggers that receive free copies of books or DVD’s to review are obligated now to disclose that fact.

Individual bloggers who express themselves on their own may be hard to tell from the pack, except for bloggers who cover a wide range of subject matter. The article notes that we have an environment where you can develop a positive online reputation for what scoops you dig up, analyze, connect up, and publish, without competing socially in the old fashioned way. This obviously doesn’t sit well with people.

The article gives many examples, especially in the net neutrality debate, of special interests funding the activities of various bloggers who seem to be writing on their own.

All of this needs to be considered in conjunction with “conflict of interest” or “blogging policies” or even prepublication review, as I have discussed recently, or even the insurance issue discussed this week.

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