A company that helps advertisers connect with bloggers willing to write about their products for payment will now require disclosures amid criticism and a regulatory threat.
Before this week, advertisers were barred by PayPerPost Inc. from telling bloggers they can’t disclose the sponsorship, but bloggers were able to decide on their own whether or not to do so. Under the new policy, bloggers must disclose that they are accepting payment, either in the write-up or in a general disclosure policy on the blogger’s Web journal.
Besides other bloggers questioning the ethics of receiving payments without disclosure, the Federal Trade Commission said in a Dec. 7 staff opinion that failure to disclose could, in some cases, violate consumer-protection laws on deception. The FTC did not single out PayPerPost or say whether it would launch any investigation.
What business does the FTC have regulating bloggers and deciding what they should and should not disclose? Does it require the New York Times to disclose its economic interests in its editorial pages, such as when it writes in favor of unconstitutional laws that put money in its pocket such as McCain-Feingold? Is this part of the “commercial speech is not really speech” argument?
The accepted wisdom among leading bloggers when the Blogola issue first came up was “transparency, above all, transparency.” I argued that when dealing with free expression, the market should decide issues of credibility. Blogs are not some sort of public utility or regulated industry, try as some might to make them so:
Being paid to express an opinion is not so different from being affected by your likelihood of getting tenure, or a promotion, or maintaining your anonymity, or getting a choice committee assignment, or for that matter stroking or offending the right or wrong people in the world of blogs, politics, one's profession or with N.Z. Bear.
I almost never use this phrase but we should be very worried about this development — though final judgment should be reserved for our chance to see that FTC opinion letter.
(Comments are closed because I cross-posted this on Dean’s World — you can comment there.)