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FTC Rules, Take Two

It’s apparent from reading the responses to my commentary on the new FTC ¬†guidelines that my position was widely misunderstood. I would like to clarify a few things for readers who may believe after reading yesterday’s post that I oppose bloggers having to disclose whether they have financial ties to a company.

1) I am not opposed at all to bloggers following a code of ethics that includes disclosing when they’ve received a review product for free. In fact, I believe all bloggers should adhere to such ethics. I work hard to adhere to a strict code of ethics in all of my own work.

2) I do not personally accept pay-per-post work.

3) I agree that it would be good to clean up the deceptive marketing practices that have become widespread on the internet.

4) I only disagree with the guidelines’ current form, not the underlying philosophy or goals of them to protect the consumer.

I said the rules needed to “go away or be revised” because in their current form the guidelines are completely non-relateable to the real world existence of professional journalists who work on the web. They are theory that isn’t actually operable in our real world. To be used they need to be fixed. If they aren’t going to be fixed, they need to be scrapped like a car with a broken transmission.

I have two essential problems with the current form of the guidelines. First,they are extremely vague and unclear, making it virtually impossible to tell under the currently issued guidance if you are doing what the FTC actually wants you to do or not. It is not as simple as “just disclose and be done” – there are actually fairly complex issues of what to disclose, where and how, and even experienced lawyers in advertising law can’t seem to determine what the FTC wants in these regulations. If I am going to be potentially legally liable for my actions being not compliant with the guidelines, they need to give me clearer guidance about exactly what is expected of me. Basically I (and I lot of other bloggers) just need better instructions than these from the FTC about exactly what it wants from us.

My second reservation (or rather request) is that I believe these guidelines should apply to everyone – traditional and new media. Many traditional media organizations do impose codes of ethics on their employees. But what they are exempt from under the new FTC guidelines is legal liabilities that are imposed in the guidelines on online media. Traditional media’s exemption from those legal liabilities creates an uneven playing field in the competition for certain editorial content between online and traditional media, and leaves the online media at a significant disadvantage. I’d like to see the guidelines applied equally to all forms of media so editorial content assistance is not withheld from online media because of additional potential legal liability that is incurred by companies when content appears in an online format.

That’s it. I just want the rules made clearer by the FTC, and applied equally to all forms of media so they don’t handicap one form over the other. Make it more straightforward, and make it fair. That’s all I’m asking.

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