Wait, We Can Get Free Stuff Blogging? And We Missed That Gravy Train Entirely?


Cartoon via Matt Hickey of Crunch Gear.

Tim Arango at NYT:

On Monday, the F.T.C. said it would revise rules about endorsements and testimonials in advertising that had been in place since 1980. The new regulations are aimed at the rapidly shifting new-media world and how advertisers are using bloggers and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to pitch their wares.

The F.T.C. said that beginning on Dec. 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. The new rules also take aim at celebrities, who will now need to disclose any ties to companies, should they promote products on a talk show or on Twitter. A second major change, which was not aimed specifically at bloggers or social media, was to eliminate the ability of advertisers to gush about results that differ from what is typical — for instance, from a weight loss supplement.

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.

Ryan Singel at Wired:

The rules break down roughly like this:

If a well-known dog blogger reviews dog food they bought, no disclosure is necessary. If they review free dog food acquired through a coupon spit out by the supermarket’s computer, no disclosure is necessary. But if the dog food company sends the blogger a free sample based on their review, both the company and the blogger are on the hook if any subsequent review doesn’t include that info.

That rule will strike the wine-blogging community hard, according to Joel Vincent, a tech consultant who runs OpenWineConsortium, a social networking site for the wine community.

One of the perennial, hot topics among wine bloggers is the ethics of accepting and disclosing samples, which are given out widely by the nation’s wine industry — composed of 6,000 mostly family-owned operations that are looking for cheap ways to market their product.

That debate just got a lot simpler — disclosure is now required by the FTC rules — at least if you are not a “professional.”

“The vast majority of wine bloggers are citizen bloggers,” Vincent said. “You are going to want to disclose just to make sure you never get called on by the FTC.”

But the rules leave much to interpretation.


I’m all for transparency, but just a little bit the FTC has decided the bloggers are somehow “different” and deserving of special attention and regulation. I doubt that this will really matter in practice, but in principle they’re basically saying that reviewers employed by big media are less likely to be corrupt.

As I said, I’m all for transparency, but how often in any publication are you told “this review product was given to the reviewer for free.” You don’t because it’s usually obvious, and bloggers are of course much less likely to get such freebies.

But the elite conspire to ensure that the rules for the rest of us are more binding than the rules for them.

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason:

This blogger rule does not apply to journalists. Just in the opinion section of los Tiempos de Los Angeles, there is a table set aside for CDs, goodybags, DVDs, stuffed animals, samples and other free swag received from flacks and manufacturers. To the best of my knowledge Tim Rutten keeps parked outside his office a four-wheeled pallet stacked tit-high with review copies that don’t fit in his office. That’s just opinion. In the entertainment sections the swag is orders of magnitude more varied and valuable. Yet I don’t remember any reviewer in any print publication ever disclosing that the record, the movie, the meal or the vacation was free.

Thank Satan we do not subject newspapers to this asinine level of scrutiny and disclosure. Praise Cybele that Sen. Obama did not have to include statistics provided by Dick Morris during his campaign commercials. Why does the Federal Trade Commission exist?

You’ll definitely want to read the whole brief, which also gives “celebrities” a smack across their sculpted noses. Don’t skip the boilerplate either, which explains that these are not new laws, just new interpretations of law by unelected officials serving the executive branch.

But don’t have your mind clouded by hatred of this or any other executive branch. In fact, all four sitting FTC commissioners were appointed by the previous executive. Getting different commissioners seated won’t help. Fight the real enemy. Abolish the Federal Trade Commission.

Mark Cuban:

Ok, so here is the deal. I really, really like going to IHOP for breakfast. I go there all the time because they have this  omelette that only has 370 calories and I think it tastest great ! (especially with Salsa).  I liked it so much i tweeted about it a little while back.

So today, I went back again. Had the omellete and a large fruit bowl. Total listed calories, 480. Perfect. Tastes good. Low cal.

Then horror of horrors, the manager comped my breakfast.

He couldn’t understand why I was visibly shaken.  I thanked him. Left a $20 tip (i wanted to be able say I left enough to more than pay for the meal).  Then I immediately called my law firm of Bakem, Shakem and Takem and had them assign their best attorneys to figure this out.

I don’t know what my disclosure requirements are going forward and whether or not I need to fill out any forms.

Can I tweet about IHOP again after Dec 1st ? Am I under some special reporting obligation ?

Does any one have any connections at the FTC that can clarify things for me ???? I read this article, and I just dont know what to do !

Im open to all advice !!

Stephen Baker at Business Week:

Yes, the Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on undisclosed cash or freebies given to bloggers. Funny, we have rules covering such behavior at BW. (We’re not allowed to accept the stuff.) But it’s the magazine, and not the government, calling the shots. (And in plenty of mags, as Spires notes ex ScratchPad, freebies are part of the game. Wouldn’t it be wild, I’m thinking, if mainstream bloggers had to disclose freebies in their blogs, but not in the pages of their magazines and papers?)

I’m all for disclosure, but why should government busy itself with it? Seems to me that lots of bloggers already go to great lengths to make disclosures. In time, won’t the public start doubting those who don’t—and won’t their reputations fall? Am I naive to think that peer pressure would work?

Of course, The FTC guidelines will only affect a fraction of bloggers—the ones who actually have relations with companies and get paid. They’re the ones who most resemble mainstream media. For the vast majority of bloggers, the key currency in this economy is not money, but links. People sell influence by linking, and often getting paid in kind. It’s in link love, far more than free goodies, that mutual backscratching is endemic.

UPDATE: Jack Shafer at Slate

Megan McArdle

UPDATE #2: Matthew Yglesias


1 Comment

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One response to “Wait, We Can Get Free Stuff Blogging? And We Missed That Gravy Train Entirely?

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built This Weekend « Around The Sphere

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