FTC Sets its Sights on Bloggers

The blogosphere has been up in arms over the last two weeks, ever since the Federal Trade Commission issued an update to its “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” In the past, these guidelines have determined the kinds of research claims companies or celebrity endorsers can make about products in advertising. With the recent update, though, the FTC has chosen to extend its reach onto the Internet, applying its regulations to blogs, Facebook pages, even Twitter feeds. L. Gordon Crovitz explains in the WSJ:

The guidelines require people to disclose online if they have what the FTC vaguely defines as “material connections” with the sellers of a product or service. This could include getting free samples on which they base comments or reviews. Bloggerl objected to the double standard that exempts traditional media from the rules – many newspapers, magazines and broadcasters accept free books and other products for their reviewers.

The FTC’s aim is to go after advertisers, but its vague definitions don’t offer much clarity. Further complicating the issue is the FTC’s intention to handle violations on a selective, case-by-case basis. Laws ought to be clear and enforcable, not ambiguous and imposed at the whim of some unelected government regulator. Either all bloggers who break the rules are criminals, or none of them are.

Netizens should recognize how unnecessary these regulations are. Bloggers who care about their reputations already practice honesty and transparency. Bloggers who don’t disclose their commercial ties risk alienating their readers and losing traffic. This relationship between content creators and users is what makes social media self-regulating. Citizens don’t need the government to clean up the Internet’s garbage.