FTC Fights the Blog Schwag Menace

The New York Times reported (10/6/09) that the Federal Trade Commission was planning to establish new rules for bloggers:

The FTC said that beginning on December 1, bloggers who review products must disclose any connection with advertisers, including, in most cases, the receipt of free products and whether or not they were paid in any way by advertisers, as occurs frequently….

For bloggers who review products, this means that the days of an unimpeded flow of giveaways may be over. More broadly, the move suggests that the government is intent on bringing to bear on the Internet the same sorts of regulations that have governed other forms of media, like television or print.

“It crushes the idea that the Internet is separate from the kinds of concerns that have been attached to previous media,” said Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University.

The strange thing here is the idea that such disclosure rules are “the same sorts of regulations that have governed other forms of media, like television or print.” When’s the last time you saw a print or TV book or music review that mentioned that the reviewer didn’t pay for the book or album under consideration? Such freebies aren’t even considered unethical–unlike the practice of restaurant critics getting free food, or travel writers getting free trips, though such deals happen often and are generally not disclosed when they do. One would think that Tim Arango, the author of the Times piece, would be more familiar with how print journalism operates.

Wired.com has more on the general kookiness of the proposed regulation. Apparently amateur bloggers will have to disclose freebies, while professional websites–and traditional media outlets–won’t. The logic, if you can call it that, is that if you can afford to pay for it yourself, then you don’t have to.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.