In case you haven’t heard, the FTC decided to get involved in the online world of blogging and social networking sites by creating new disclosure rules for those of us who receive free products from any publishers/manufacturer/marketer. This news has taken Twitter by storm. Honestly, I think my phone almost blew up with the number of tweets it was receiving yesterday. Here are various takes on the news:
- BuzzMachine’s thoughts: FTC regulating our speech
- Dear Author’s thoughts: Unreasonable Case of Disclosure
- Scribbit’s thoughts: What it Means for Bloggers
- Edward Champion’s Interview with the FTC’s Richard Cleland
- PC World’s Quick Guide to the New Rules for Bloggers
Now, I’m not certain about you but my mother always taught me to say thank you for anything free you might receive, whether it is a present or you asked for it. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but all the FTC wants us to do is acknowledge that we’ve received something for free. In essence, we are publicly thanking the publisher/manufacturer/marketer for the gift we received. Is it as simple as stating “Thanks to Jane Doe at ZXY Publishing for the book”? I think so, but I’m not certain. Honestly, I feel an obligation to make such a statement already, because to me, any book is a gift, and one I don’t have to pay for is an extra-special gift. So, such a statement is my blogging thank you note.
In spite of my ingrained belief in required thank you notes, I am torn about this ruling. I am truly bothered by the fact that it extends to such social networking sites as Twitter and Facebook. If I rave about a product that may or may not have a flavor in it that my company makes, according to the FTC,I need to disclose this information. Unfortunately, company confidentiality prevents me from doing so. And if I link to a review on Twitter or Facebook, do I have to disclose where I got the book in the post or in the tweet too?
Given the loopholes, inconsistencies and general lack of understanding the FTC appears to have regarding the blogging world, I truly believe the FTC jumped the gun on this one. If they would have taken the time to understand just what they were trying to regulate, we would have much clearer, fairer rules. To assume that reviews in newspapers and magazines are different because the reviewer is paid by said newspaper or magazine is ridiculous and biased. As applied to books, the reviewer keeps the book, not the magazine, no matter what Mr. Cleland states. They get to keep the products and get paid to read a book and write reviews. Me? I may get one or two advanced reader copies a week, if I’m lucky, and I have to squeeze reading time and blogging time in between my full-time job, studying for various exams, and family time. Yet, I’m the one that will be fined if I don’t comply.
Speaking of loopholes, if I give everything a negative review, I do not have to post any form of disclosure. Negative reviews are okay, but positive ones are not? And how positive is positive? For book reviews are very rarely gushing and all wonderful. I know for my own reviews, I do try to point out at least one positive and one negative thought about the book for every review. Which category would this fall under – positive or negative?
If the FTC was hoping to crack down on word-of-mouth advertising, I’m not certain they succeeded because there are still plenty of ways around this whole disclosure thing. I can tell all my friends about a great book over coffee without disclosing the source. I can write a letter to family members or even send an e-mail about it. I just can’t write it on Facebook, Twitter, or my blog. Does this really make sense, FTC? And given the state of the world right now, is this really how we should be spending our time and money – concerned about bloggers?
I’m curious what others think. Is this really no big deal? Or is it the start of something bigger? What are your thoughts?