Wednesday, October 07, 2009

FTC Legitimizes Blogging as a Form of Media

Posted by Leah Rice

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, “U.S. Seeks to Restrict Gift Giving to Bloggers,” writers Amy Schatz and Miguel Bustillo report on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) newly released guidelines for bloggers. The guideline requires that “bloggers must disclose any money or freebies they receive in exchange for writing product reviews, a fast-growing and loosely regulated way for companies to market everything from diapers to movies.” Similar rules apply to traditional media outlets like TV, radio, newspaper and magazines.

The FTC’s guideline validates that blogging is now a form of mainstream media. It is wild to see how the blogging industry has taken off in such a short period of time and where researchers expect it to be in a few years. eMarketer estimates that as of 2009 there are approximately 27 million U.S. bloggers and by 2013 there will be approximately 37 million U.S. bloggers.

As the blogging industry continues to grow, big companies are increasingly using these forums to build buzz, sending bloggers products to review or even helping them host parties to encourage others to try their wares. Schatz and Bustillo write that the FTC is taking a stand to “protect consumers from deceptive trade and anti-competitive business practices.”

According to the Wall Street Journal article and the FTC, “Bloggers and others who are paid or give freebies to promote products online will be required to offer some sort of written disclosure for readers or face possible fines of as much as $11,000 per violation.”

Schatz and Bustillo provide an example of why the FTC is requiring these guidelines, “The FTC regulations target such bloggers as Christine Young of California, who parlayed a personal Web site detailing her experiences home-schooling her six children into a significant commercial enterprise. She is one of the Elevenmoms, a cadre of bloggers organized by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which receives free merchandise from the retailer's suppliers, and has been flown to special events by Frito Lay, Johnson & Johnson and other companies.”

The article stirred some lively debate with commenters saying the following about the new regulations:

  • “Should they? Yes. Should they be required by law? Not a chance. If anyone is stupid enough to take at face value anything they read online, in any newspaper, or hear on radio, they deserve what they get.”

  • “Perhaps the best argument against any government regulation of the blogosphere is the problem of enforcing a U.S. regulation across the World Wide Web and against a blogger whose real name and location is often not known or knowable.”

  • “The good bloggers like Chris Brogan and Christopher Penn already do this. Chris Brogan would say that it's part of being a ‘trust agent.’”

And according to the Wall Street Journal’s online vote titled, “Should bloggers disclose gifts or payments they receive for product reviews?” – 85.8% of the voters (309 in total) agree that bloggers should disclose information on gifts and payments that they receive.

What do you think? Should bloggers be required to disclose gifts or payments they receive from product reviews?

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