Bloggers have long faced repercussions for lacking transparency, but now they could face monetary penalties as well.
In a unanimous vote earlier this week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decided to revise its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. The ruling comes almost a year after the FTC announced the proposed changes. The update, which goes into effect Dec. 1, require bloggers to disclose any monetary relationships with sponsors. Bloggers could face up to $11,000 in fines if they don’t comply.
The FTC guides, which ban deceptive or unfair practices in advertising, were last updated in 1980. With the popularity of blogs, social media and celebrity endorsements, however, advertising techniques have changed considerably in 30 years. Under the revised guidelines, sponsored blog posts are not specifically banned, but bloggers must disclose a monetary relationship with the sponsor and may not write any false statements about the product.
Although the FTC doesn’t say what specifically constitutes full disclosure, Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s Advertising Practices Division, told the Huffington Post, “the disclosure must be ‘clear and conspicuous,’ no matter what form it will take.” Therefore, to paraphrase Potter Stewart, the reader must recognize a sponsored post when he or she sees it.
While some digital media thought leaders see this as an imposition onto the expansion of the Internet, others view it as the government recognizing the Internet’s equality with other media. As MCDM favorite Clay Shirky told The New York Times, “it crushes the idea that the Internet is separate from the kinds of concerns that have been attached to previous media.”
Whether the FTC move is a blow or a benefit to blogging, transparency about sponsorship is generally considered best practice, and now bloggers have more incentive to comply.
Helen Pitlick has been a student in the MCDM program since spring 2009. She works with social media as an intern at Foodista.com, and in her spare time she reviews craft beer.