Federal Trade Commission Goes After Bloggers
Business Week reports that the Federal Trade Commission plans to issue guidelines this summer requiring bloggers to disclose when they are being compensated by an advertiser to endorse a product. The guidelines are being enacted in the midst of what is being called a "blogola" scandal (an ungainly term that tries to conjure up the radio "payola" scandals of the 1960s, wherein record companies compensated some of the nation's premier disc jockeys to play certain records), in which advertisers are compensating bloggers with cash, laptops and other goodies in order to write positive reviews of their products. I have received several such offers and immediately felt dirty about even considering them.
However, I'm sure there are more than a few bloggers who fiercely value their free speech, for good reason, of course, and who will say that the FTC's planned rules will violate their First Amendment rights. As they teach in law school, however, fully "free speech" does not exist in the U.S. The classic example is that you are not allowed to yell "fire!" in a crowded movie house. As Woody Allen once wrote, however, you are presumably permitted to yell "movie!" in a crowded firehouse.
Advertising is one area where speech really isn't free. Federal law prohibits "unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce," and the FTC is charged with enforcing this law. I for one don't mind this at all. For instance, I have no problem with the fact that it is illegal for a drug company to claim that a certain drug in their asthma inhaler helps kids breathe when they are having an asthma attack, when in fact the drug does no such thing, and a child then has an asthma attack, uses the company's inhaler, and dies.
If Business Week's report is correct, the FTC's proposed guidelines would not curtail bloggers' free speech in any event. The FTC would merely require bloggers who are being paid to endorse a product to disclose this fact. Once they do so, they are still free to spread their phony endorsements all over the Internet.
Law or no law, it seems to me that, if a company has to advertise its product in a secretive way, perhaps it should look into the quality of the product.
(h/t to The Huffington Post)