Tuesday, October 6, 2009

American Government to Regulate Blogging - It Could Be Worse

Updated (October 20, 2009)

Related post:
"FTC: Bloggers, testimonials need better disclosure"
The Associated Press (October 5, 2009)

"The Federal Trade Commission on Monday took steps to make product information and online reviews more accurate for consumers, regulating blogging for the first time and mandating that testimonials reflect typical results.

"The FTC will require that writers on the Web clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products. The commission also said advertisers featuring testimonials that claim dramatic results cannot hide behind disclaimers that the results aren't typical.

"The FTC said its commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final guidelines, which had been expected. The guides are not binding law, but rather interpretations of law that hope to help advertisers comply with regulations. Violating the rules, which take effect Dec. 1, could result in various sanctions including a lawsuit...."

There's more to the article - but it seems that the Federal Trade Commission isn't so much trying to stifle free speech, as encourage honest communication.

The Wild West and Online Snake Oil Salesmen

I've made this comparison before. The Internet now is a bit like the 'wild west' in American history: the period around the mid-to-late 1800s, when the edge of Euro-American settlement was moving west. The 'wild west' kept moving - Kansas City, Missouri, was a frontier town at one point.

The 'wild west' and the Internet have quite a few things in common. They're places where: significant numbers of people are 'moving into' a place where new social and economic systems are rapidly evolving; law enforcement is generally a long way away; the people are, for the most part, young, energetic, innovative, and sometimes ethically challenged.

I think it's reasonable to suppose that the FTC is trying to deal with the digital equivalents of snake oil salesmen and land agents with lots of fraudulent deeds to sell.

We'll see.

Remember Payola?

This reminds me of the fuss over payola, almost fifty years ago. History.com has a pretty good overview of the "Payola Scandal.

My take on 'payola' - and what we seem to be dealing with here - is this: I don't mind if a promoter pays to get a song, or an infomercial, or some show, broadcast. Some of those things are entertaining.

I do mind if the promoter and whoever is doing the broadcasting don't let us know who paid to have it run. That goes quadruple in the case of presentations like infomercials.

It's one thing to look at what appear to be third-party evaluations of a product or service: and quite another to view an 'evaluation' done by someone paid to make the product or service look good.

It a way, it's easy for me to be laid-back about this. Although this blog is mostly micro-reviews: I don't get paid by the people or organizations whose work I review. That kind of trouble I don't need: all it would take would be one leak that I was being paid to say nice - or nasty - things, and my credibility would be toast. Permanently.

For people who do get compensation for online reviews and evaluations - that can be done in a legitimate, ethical way. Which is a whole new topic.

Encouraging Honesty, One Thing; Discouraging the Free Exchange of Ideas, Something Else

What I don't see in this FTC move is a clear effort to silence people with politically unwanted views.

I think it's possible that an apparently-reasonable set of regulations governing who can say what, and what they have to disclose, could lead by degrees to real censorship. But I don't see anything particularly close to that sort of control being involved here.

But, I've been wrong before.

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