The Federal Trade Commission is considering rules that would require bloggers to disclose any remuneration they may have received from companies they cover. This would include advertising or any commissions from clickthroughs (although this would be fairly obvious).
In doing so, the FTC is mandating for policies and rules for online publishers that are purely voluntary (if customary) in the print media. This is not governments role. Plus given the millions of blogs out there today, consistent enforcement of such rules would be impossible. To many individuals who are trying to make a go at the new, low cost business models blogging presents, this represents a business-killer.
Here’s an excerpt from a Web commentary posted earlier Monday.
In a story about the looming FTC plan, the Associated Press featured Rebecca Empey, a New Hartford, N.Y., housewife who makes $800 a month from five blogs. Empey has received a bird feeder, toys, books and other free goods from advertisers—gifts she disclosed to her readers. Now she worries that even a casual mention of an all-natural cold remedy she bought herself could trigger an FTC probe. “Will I be sued because I didn’t hire a scientist to do research?” Empey asked.
The ethical thing for bloggers is to disclose what compensation or sponsorship agreements they have—and many already do. Even if they don’t, it’s not the government’s job to make ethical decisions for bloggers. Remember that blogs, like their print counterparts, succeed or fail based on the quality of their content. A blogger who gets the reputation as a shill will see a falloff in credibility and visits. An honest writer, on the contrary, will draw more readers and offer advertisers a better value proposition. The audience can determine the trustworthiness of sources without the government’s help.
The full commentary can be found here.