December 1: The Day Internet Freedom of Speech Dies

Online freedom of speech took its first hit as the Federal Trade Commission has decided to fine bloggers and other online reviewers–amateur or professional–who endorse products and do not disclose whether they have received complementary items or compensation from the manufacturer. The rule becomes effective December 1.

This marks the first time the government has stepped into the business of regulating publishers of online content. Chances are it won’t be the last. The camel’s nose is under the tent. And although full disclosure might be good ethical practice (always a handy justification for regulation), it hardly merits a government rule that fines violators up to $11,000.

As I noted in June when these rules were being discussed, enforcement presents huge challenges. Plus, all the exceptions and explanations the FTC has issued about this rule (see the AP story) begs the question about why we need it in the first place.

To put this rule in context: Since the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1787, no publisher was accountable or answerable to the U.S. government. December 1 that all changes. Conmsidering the Web is well on its way to being citizens’ primary source of information and opinion–be it political or commercial–America is not better off for it.