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U.S. FTC Wants Regulations For Blogs and Social Networking
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msg:3886301
 11:36 am on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

U.S. FTC Wants Regulations For Blogs and Social Networking [vnunet.com]
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is planning to regulate online viral marketing that uses blogs and social networking sites.

Marketers are spending billions worldwide to get the endorsements of key bloggers and groups on social networking sites. One tactic, used by Microsoft and others, is to send products to bloggers on 'long-term loans' on the understanding that they will comment about them on their sites.

Under the new regulations being proposed, such bloggers would be legally liable if they make untrue statements about the products or services. The companies too would face sanctions.


 

maximillianos




msg:3886322
 12:33 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

This is very interesting. It is the reverse of slander/libel laws, and it should be a law. Companies cannot falsely advertise on TV, so if companies contract out their advertising they need to be held responsible for the content of those "ads" being posted around the web.

grelmar




msg:3886332
 1:08 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

OMG! Not everything you read on the internets is true? Say it ain't so!

*yawn*

Blogs and review sites that are little more than paid schills get bad reputations all on their own, without any government intervention.

maximillianos




msg:3886357
 1:54 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

It is interesting because most main-stream media advertising is run by companies, and there are laws against false advertising.

However many blogs are run by sole proprietorships, (ie - Not really viewed as a company by government for tax purposes) and I would guess many of the advertisement laws may not apply for such entities?

The "blogger" is a new business entity that really only started existing in the last 15 years.... with popularity growing in the last 7-8 years. I'm curious to see where this goes. If a blogger is being paid or compensated for aiding in a marketing campaign of a company, they should have to follow the same rules as any other big brand company that is trying to do online marketing... in my opinion.

Please note that I am not referring to one's right of freedom of speech for folks sharing their opinion free of charge... This is about paid marketers that don't have the same rules as big brand marketing companies... It seems to be a loophole.

ponyboy96




msg:3886382
 2:21 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

I think a little disclosure about whether or not a blog post was "sponsored" should be made. Maybe in the fine print below the post.

But, I also believe that the people in congress or FTC that are making these changes should also be required to wear patches on their suits that list their sponsors as well. I'm sure these changes are coming from somewhere for some political or monetary gain.

maximillianos




msg:3886411
 2:48 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

But, I also believe that the people in congress or FTC that are making these changes should also be required to wear patches on their suits that list their sponsors as well. I'm sure these changes are coming from somewhere for some political or monetary gain.

Good one... ;-)

jexx




msg:3886431
 3:15 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Although it's probably a good idea to regulate false ADVERTISING of products and services, but my fear (as always with regulation unless it is very specific) is that this will be used to try to control content of subjective nature (opinion) as well, which would be a bad idea...

Plus, it's not not like traditional news media (e.g. TV's Fox News et al.) already circumvent rules for making false claims by constantly creating headlines with question marks at end (i.e. "O.J. Did it?"). So, that begs the question on how much this would really accomplish unless it is very specific..

ergophobe




msg:3886465
 4:07 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

jexx - I think laws could be written in a way that allow you to say anything you want, within very broad limits, provided basic disclosure.

For example, you could just require that reviewers of products state that they have rec'd a free review copy, have been paid to write a review or are getting a commission on sales.

It raises the question, though, of why the FTC doesn't stipulate that when I walk into Home Depot to buy appliances (one of the few departments where salespeople are on commission), the salesman is not required to walk up and say: "Hi, I'm Bob. I'll be your salesperson today and I'm on commission."

Or when I go to a car dealership, why isn't the salesman required to say "Hi, I'll be telling you how great this car is, but really it just has a great incentive program this month."

Okay, now I'm getting cynical. I think a couple of simple rules would get rid of a lot of the "badness"

1. Disclosure of payment to write a review, just as magazines mark "Advertorials" and are required to use a different font when content would otherwise look like reporting.

2. Clear disclosure on your "free trial" order form of any continuity payments and when they will get billed, including an "I understand..." type of checkbox and couple this with mandatory 24-hour available disenrollment process (could simply be an email address that stops any charges within 24 hours or rolls them back).

#2 would get rid of the Acai Berry, Federal Grant, Colon Cleanse scams overnight.

#1 would get rid of paid shills writing advertorials dressed as genuine reporting.

And then let buyers figure out that those stupid review websites are 99% commission sales-driven, just like the pushy car salesman who is *never* going to tell you that the car in front of you is the best they have, but the dealer down the street has two models that are better suited to you.

AjiNIMC




msg:3886562
 6:19 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

My concern is that every sentence, feedback will have 2 sides, both the sides standing my its word. Will the government have enough time and resources to debate every other complain.

How feasible will it be?

greenleaves




msg:3886634
 7:52 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

But, I also believe that the people in congress or FTC that are making these changes should also be required to wear patches on their suits that list their sponsors as well. I'm sure these changes are coming from somewhere for some political or monetary gain.

Great one. Also,

Companies cannot falsely advertise on TV

I'd hate to disagree. See a late night info-commercial. Most of them make the most ridiculous claims. They get away with it by putting a little disclaimer on the bottom. But more realisiticaly, they get away with it by having a huge legal team.

Or how about false advertising and getting away with it if you have connections, like advertising for a war under false premises and getting off scot-free, without media/courts/etc doing so much as even bringing it up? Or the credit rating agencies that made sure 'AAA' was stamped on anything that was put together by anyone with a Ivie-league school MBA? The list goes on.

So if I'm a small blogger and I give an endorsement to a product that is latter discovered to not work (which can be a legitimate mistake), I could get in trouble? Or if I say company x's product is better company y's product, and company y decides to put in a frivolous suit, now they can? And even ruin me if I don't have to money to defend against it? Not everything is black and white.

While the biggest theft in history is happening, the accomplices to it are searching to ever oppress freedom. They come out with their hands stained in blood to preach purity and put in generic legislation that puts the law on the side of whom can afford it. Never before has the phrase 'if you are not outraged you are not paying attention' apply.

I could be just paranoid, but I feel big money is making sure it is ever harder and harder for the small guy.

gawnd




msg:3886638
 7:59 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

greenleaves <- friend speaks my mind. i couldn't agree more.

mfishy




msg:3886677
 8:37 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Of course this only hurts the little guy. The entire diet industry is built around factoring in how much you will lose in a class action suit vs. how much you will earn overall. 100% of diet pills make what the gov considers to be false claims. A company has to have deep pockets to play this game/

I would love to see the movies disclose the product placement deals :)

greenleaves




msg:3886695
 9:10 pm on Apr 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Well that was/is the wonderful thing about the internet. It hasn't been regulated to death with GENERIC rules, that can be applied either way, and are always applied to the way the money leans. On the internet, it has typically been the place where the little guy has a little advantage.

Notice how they decide to make laws that put the responsibility on the government. Channeling everything through their system.

Wouldn't you guys think it better to INFORM and EDUCATE people about these issues, rather than create badly worded generic legislation that will only further bloat our legal system and ultimately the government?

With freedom comes responsibility, but if government takes the responsibility, then where is freedom?

What is worse, not only are these legislators blatantly on the side of big money and against freedom, but they are dinosaurs that don't even understand the whole 'internet tubes' thing. And all is being done under the scheme of 'protecting the people'. They should say protecting the people *

* restrictions apply, please see our T&Cs and those of our sponsors for more information.

vincevincevince




msg:3886799
 12:16 am on Apr 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

So, companies will have a new tool to beat bloggers who give negative reviews with; and bloggers gain nothing in return.

We already have libel laws; and they already apply online. Why should laws which have regulated paper and ink effectively be unsuitable for pixel and processor?

IanKelley




msg:3886834
 1:25 am on Apr 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

Wouldn't you guys think it better to INFORM and EDUCATE people about these issues, rather than create badly worded generic legislation that will only further bloat our legal system and ultimately the government?

Careful, you're making too much sense.

BaseballGuy




msg:3886892
 4:13 am on Apr 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

This is nothing more than the government intruding where they do not belong.

Two words for you:

CAVEAT EMPTOR

I am not condoning these false review sites, but if you are stupid enough to get taken in on a phony review....

JS_Harris




msg:3887027
 9:41 am on Apr 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

Disclaimer - these are my findings and opinions only.

voila, the blogger is immune (within reason, blatant bs is blatant bs)

I've noticed some changes happening over at Google's blog search that might have something to do with this, if you look up a keyword and check out the top sites without sorting them a good majority are a) not blogs at all and b) do not allow comments without registration or account.

Is that a coincidence or do sites without open comenting systems fare better now ?

Also, I would endorse this move by the FTC if enforcement is taken reasonably. If the FTC starts to contact hosts without a judge having determined a party to be guilty I will be against this wholeheartedly. Innocent until proven guilty still applies right ?

[edited by: JS_Harris at 9:43 am (utc) on April 7, 2009]

JS_Harris




msg:3887029
 9:49 am on Apr 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

Pardon the double post but I wanted to comment on Richard O'Brien's take that bloggers will fear writing... I think he has that backwards, I'd be willing to wager that the very bloggers who are the biggest problem will taunt the regulations to gain notoriety.

If a blogger who has a large following gets smacked with a fine the bloggers rep grows and an army of haters emerges against the FTC.

There is no fear in blogosphere (go ahead and use that in a blog title if you like - I won't call the FTC).

Seb7




msg:3887051
 10:58 am on Apr 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

I really DO NOT want to see specific laws written for the internet. Laws can be such a waste of money, making things too complex and generate so much unnecessary paper work.

I personally feel laws should never be limited to 'blogs and social networking sites', or even just the internet.

Basically if your going advertise something, or advertise while pretending its a review, no matter what the medium, then you shouldn’t be deliberately writing any kind of miss-information that’s going to lead to someone getting scammed.

grelmar




msg:3887495
 9:08 pm on Apr 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

greenleaves hit it on the head, really, but in case anyone is unsure how the mechanics of this works, let's spell it out (and it's an old recipe that's been used in a number of different media)

1. Megacorp A has a crappy Widget it needs to offload. It creates, then funds...

2. Offshore Obscure Numbered Company B, which acts as the traditional straw man, and hires...

3. Little Guy Blogger C, to write nice things about crappy Widget.

4. Consumer D gets screwed buying crappy Widget, complains to FTC.

5. FTC first looks at Megacorp A, who's army of lawyers says "we can't be held responsible for this, we offloaded the crappy Widget to an offshore company. Sue them."

6. FTC then goes for Offshore Obscure Company B. Strangely (not), by this time, Offshore Obscure Company B has vanished into the ether, along with any records connecting it to Megacorp A. However, for some strange reason, it kept a list of payouts to Little Guy Blogger C.

7. Screwed consumer is crying for blood, and the only target left is the poor schill who made the least amount of money off the whole thing, which is (you guessed it), Little Guy Blogger C.

8. Anvil of Law falls on Little Guy Blogger C.

Fiver




msg:3892961
 3:41 pm on Apr 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

if you are not outraged you are not paying attention

and if you're paying attention, you're not hosting in the good ole US of A.

How much would hosting play into it? If a Little Guy Blogger C was an American citizen, but their blog was hosted in Ireland, what jurisdiction does the FTC have?

nealrodriguez




msg:3893288
 9:52 pm on Apr 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

whatever the blogger or social media user may say about a product in question, point blank, is an opinion; my question would thus be:

how can an opinion be deemed as false advertising?

blogger.com/new-widgetizer-is-off-the-hinges/

'i loved the widget inc.'s new widgetizer; i'll never leave home without one again.'

ftc: blogger smith, you are being charged with false advertising, and must pay a penalty of $250K.

blogger: okay, let me see how much i have in the pig.

i don't know, maybe my world isn't spinning fast enough that when i try to visualize this gorbachev reality i see happy face people i drew in pre-k.

cmendla




msg:3938301
 4:32 pm on Jun 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

Greensleeves said
While the biggest theft in history is happening, the accomplices to it are searching to ever oppress freedom. They come out with their hands stained in blood to preach purity and put in generic legislation that puts the law on the side of whom can afford it. Never before has the phrase 'if you are not outraged you are not paying attention' apply.

I could be just paranoid, but I feel big money is making sure it is ever harder and harder for the small guy

I couldn't agree more. This smells of "keep the little guys in line". We keep hearing the garbage about blogs not being trustable and that the mainstream 'journalists' are trustworthy and verified. Bovine droppings on that.

If it were not for bloggers, most people would never have known that the 'host' of the recent Vice PResidential debate had a HUGE stake in the outcome. The host had a book out where if a certain candidate won, she would make a lot of sales. That was NOT disclosed to the public until the BLOGGERS raised a holy stink. Even at that, there was no general announcement and millions of people watched that debate not realizing that the moderator had a horse in the race.

The lamestream media is scared to death of the bloggers. They newspapers are folding and viewership of the traditional media is dropping.

Be Afraid, Be very afraid.

cmendla




msg:3938309
 4:46 pm on Jun 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

One thing for everyone to keep in mind is how the govenrment 'encourages' compliance.

It uses the tactics of the middle ages.. Punish a few people publically and severely and then stick their heads on pikes at the city gates as a warning.

Don't think that 'they can't go after all of us'. What they will do is pick a couple of targets, run a phoney kangaroo court and then deal out harsh sentences "Blogger gets 10 years for false advertising" etc. Heck, the cost of hiring an attorney to defend you in FEDERAL court would be a disaster for most of us. It would only take a couple of headlines like that to put a major chill in blogging

Just one more reason to go to the next Tea Pary in your area.

I'm wondering if the BOR would apply as to free speech. However, with the direction the courts will be taking, I don't expect any salvation there.

The other problem is that the persecuters and juries are probably clueless as to how the internettubes thing works. IOW, you could just have adsense running and nothing else. You write a neat review of a trip you took to europe. Big Bro comes in and nails you. The truth is, that there is no way you are manipulating things in that case, no matter what you wrote, because adsense shows ads automatically. However, if you mentioned a hotel and had an affiliate link , the Orwellian Overseers could try to claim that you are illegal with that. Meanwhile, it's ok to try to fill the cabinet with tax cheat after tax cheat.. No problem here... we have to go after the BLOGGERS.

cmendla




msg:3938326
 5:05 pm on Jun 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

nealrodriguez said

ftc: blogger smith, you are being charged with false advertising, and must pay a penalty of $250K.

blogger: okay, let me see how much i have in the pig

The problem isn't just fines. Even the threat of 90 days in a federal pen would scare the bejabbers out of most people.

Also, you probably would not get pro bono legal help. I would guess that your would have to fork over at least a 30k retainer just to get started on your defense.

BTW - I'm glad the ACLU had jumped right on this and spoken out against this unconstitutional restriction of free speech... uh wait... they haven't? hmmmm.

cmendla




msg:3938377
 6:59 pm on Jun 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

Sorry for the multiple posts but this thing really irks me.

I was just thinking about a trip we took about 2 years ago. We checked into a 5 star hotel that was a one night stopover. We had booked the second smallest room. When my wife and I checked in they said they would do an upgrade. I was back at the truck unloading when our son ran up and said "Dad, you have to see the room we got".

Turns out they gave us the Governors Suite. Now, I had no way of knowing WHY they gave us the suite.

1. It is not that hard to tie my last name to the sites I have. Perhaps they figured it out.
2. Perhaps the male clerk thought my wife was cute
3. Perhaps the female clerks thought I was cute (Yeah right, I slmost lost my keyboard to coffee writing that)
4. Perhaps is was the credit card I used.

Anyway, we got a free upgrade of significant value and I don't really know why. So, any sites with affiliate links might be tainted in the eyes of the FTC even though I don't beleive it was a quid pro quo.

So, while the government tries to protect us from that kind of vague greyness, we have a former senator who got one sweetheart of a land deal when he bought his house and then pushed legislation to allow his benefactor to take over the board of a hospital. A couple of million in clearly illicit transaction and...... crickets...

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