Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission issued an 81 page document entitled “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising"” requiring bloggers who write testimonials about products to disclose gifts or payments they receive. So if a company sends you a dollar-store toy, you will be scrutinized by the government, regardless whether you were asked to post a review or not. Whether it be free review copies of books, trips to oil rigs, payments, t-shirts, whatever it is, you better disclose it, to Uncle Sam, or, as the Washington Post reports, you’ll be fined up to $11,000 in fines
This is yet another attempt by the government to regulate the internet and imposes significant regulations upon bloggers. As radio host Dana Loetch noted, “the government is attempting to put all website, both personal and professional, under its thumb under the guise of protecting consumers from dishonest bloggers and bloggers from dishonest companies. It shows a lack of faith in both the public and the blogging community which has been doing just fine and doesn’t welcome the bureaucracy.”
Jim Harper of Cato also comments that the FTC is trying to put itself in the business of guaranteeing the veracity of speech and the honesty and straightforwardness of bloggers, and fails to understand that “No” meansno law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. He adds that the “protection” in this regulatory scheme encourages consumers to be supine and irresponsible. State law should deal with frauds as they occur. There should be no law barring or limiting paid endorsements — certainly not a federal law.
In related developments, the Examiner today reported on an FTC workshop “workshop” called ”From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?”. This covers such topics as how to change government policies to ensure the rather Orwellian “optimal amounts and types of journalism”, and also to what extent the Federal Government should financially subsidies the mainstream media, a road effectively to the creation of a government-run press.
Those of us who believe in freedom of the press, the First Amendment, and a vibrant online community should be very worried indeed.