ReadWriteWeb has reported on recent guidelines released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that will allow them to crackdown on bloggers who do not disclose their connections to companies and affiliates when endorsing a product. The post contains the entire guideline document which will have some very wide-reaching implications for the way in which products can be endorsed online.
At first, this seems like a step towards a more ethical internet – where affiliations and loyalties must be disclosed. However, it is a worrying sign that governments are feeling the need to implement regulation that deals directly with freedom of speech issues. It’s going to be quite a while before we see the true implications of this step, but there are already many worrying possibilities if the guidelines are taken to their literal conclusion.
Immediate repurcussions will be that bloggers will now have to be much more forward about any form of coercion or profit that they are receiving from companies that they promote. For example, if you receive the latest technological gadget for free and end up doing a review of it you must disclose the fact that you had been given the product by the company in question. For some, this is a positive step forward in cleaning up the internet. For others, it is an invasion of personal liberties and decision making.
Possible downsides are that this may promote much more cut-throat and competitive behaviour between blogs – with an easily forseeable outcome being that bloggers will seek to report competitors whenever they break these guidelines. This form of social policing can work when done from a citizen advice point of view, but when combined with possible legal implications it could be said that we are now being encouraged to become government informants and work in an underhanded manner against others within our chosen sphere.
The guidelines are worth having a look through, and I’ve admittedly yet to read through them all myself. If you have any thoughts on this new development in online communication then please do let us know what you think in our comments. The blogosphere used to be a medium of co-operation and friendly advice, but it seems that now the competitive nature of business is starting to become more and more a factor.