Bloggers now required to disclose free gifts: Checkers, Part II?

Nixon and Checkers, a gift given to his daughters

Nixon and Checkers, a gift given to his daughters

Beginning Dec. 1, blogs will be subjected to the same level of oversight as other forms of media. Today, the FTC announced new regulations requiring that bloggers who review products will have to disclose any potential connection to the advertiser, such as providing the product to the reviewer for free.

As Tim Arango of The New York Times wrote today,

“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.”

I see this as progress for the blog medium. Blogs struggle to achieve the same recognition as other forms of media. I know I am guilty of taking information on blogs less seriously than content on newspaper Web sites. I believe this blog bias is due to origins of the blog. I remember when Xanga was popular, and every kid at school had an account. It was the Facebook of 2004. MySpace and Facebook have become the new outlets for venting and personal expression. That was my first exposure to blogging, and I think many web users are in the same boat I am. It takes time to shift from thinking of blogs as personal diatribes to thinking of them as serious media outlets for the dissemination of news and informed opinions.

Arango’s article refers to professor Clay Shirky, whose essay “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” we read earlier in the semester.

“’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.”

Is elevating blog status a step toward saving journalism, as Shirky discussed in his essay on newspapers?

The Times also interviews blog reviewer Christine Young.

“’I think that bloggers definitely need to be held accountable,’ said Ms. Young. ‘I think there is a certain level of trust that bloggers have with readers, and readers deserve to know the whole truth.’”

This leaves me with two thoughts: 1) Will the FTC regulations even be enforceable? I’m not convinced they can be. It seems that we haven’t been able to regulate the Internet at all yet. How is this any different? 2) Am I the only one who is left with a lingering blog bias after the Xanga era, or has everyone else moved on?

Do you think the FTC regulations are reasonable? Do you think they’re enforceable?

Do you take blog media as seriously as other forms of media? Do you ever read product reviews on blogs?

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7 responses to “Bloggers now required to disclose free gifts: Checkers, Part II?

  1. As strange as it is to catch myself thinking it, I also think a little federal regulation of this internet medium. As long as it doesn’t go all Big Brother on us, I agree with the thought that a few FTC rules could help build up the credibility of bloggers.

    I also tend to read blogs with more skepticism than I do other articles- even when they’re from the same source. Erin’s right, the word “blog” tends to conjure up memories of Xanga TMI posts and angst-ridden MySpace pages.

    I’m spending thousands of dollars and fours years of my life learning how to blog. I guess I appreciate any help I can get turning it into a respected journalistic endeavor and weeding out the obnoxious product pushers.

  2. You might be interested in the blogger’s code of ethics, proposed on cyberjournalist.net. The suggested code, based on the SPJ code, generated heavy discussion.

    http://www.cyberjournalist.net/news/000215.php

    • The Blogger’s Code of Ethics was, indeed, very similar to the SPJ code, calling on bloggers to Minimize Harm, Seek Truth, and Be Accountable. (They did not have a section to parallel “Act Independently.”)

      I think the passage above the tenants perfectly encapsulates what I was getting at in my post:

      “Integrity is the cornerstone of credibility. Bloggers who adopt this code of principles and these standards of practice not only practice ethical publishing, but convey to their readers that they can be trusted.”

      Bloggers are not yet credible. But, if we felt more confident a code such as this was being followed, we may start lending them more trust.

      I found it interesting that the code included a principle about not distorting photos and labeling/indicating any image enhancements. We don’t seem to even have this standard for print yet. (Unlabeled photo distortion is especially prevalent in fashion magazines and tabloids.)

      It was great that it included a component that blogs should invite public dialogue about the content and the writer. I think that is the main advantage of the blog. You don’t have to hope that your letter to the editor gets published. No one can stop you from posting your comment or opinion, which seems even more democratic.

  3. I have been wondering when something like this was going to come up when it comes to bloggers and the products they endorse. I have been curious for awhile whether or not they’re actually endorsing the products because they like them and use them, or whether they’re endorsing a product because they get it in the mail for free from the company.

    I think bloggers should have some regulations as to how they endorse products. If I’m correct, if celebrities and public figures endorse a product on television, they have to actually use that product. I think the same should go for bloggers. Some of these bloggers are recognizable to the public. Some are even becoming celebrities in their own way. Why shouldn’t the same rules apply to them?

    That being said, I do think the FTC will have a difficult time regulating their new guidelines. The Internet is basically limitless, and there are millions and millions of bloggers out there. Is it really possible to regulate every single blogger? Even if it is possible, let’s be honest, is it really even worth the trouble? I can only hope that bloggers are honest. I think it’s up to them to stick to the rules.

    • You make a great point that many bloggers are achieving somewhat of a celebrity-type status. The internet is a whole new medium, where artists like Soulja Boy build their career from a YouTube video and Perez Hilton brings celebrity gossip to a new level.

      It only seems logical that we would transfer our expectations of celebrities to this new medium.

      I believe that the more bloggers begin posting the circumstances of their review (Did they pay for the product? How much have they used it or tested it? etc.) the more they will be trusted by consumers. We like hearing the whole story, which probably explains our cultural obsession with reality TV and celebrity fever. I think the same can be said of our expectations as consumers.

  4. Mary Bess Bolling

    Because of the Internet’s flexible access and immense size, it’s nearly impossible for me to visualize a day (in my lifetime, at least) when blogging is regulated.

    With that said, bloggers must adhere to a journalistic code of ethics to be taken seriously, so they decide their own fate with their level of accuracy and commitment to the truth.

  5. I’ll get right to the point. No, the FTC law is unenforceable. One important question is, to whom does this law apply? Bloggers with blogs based in the United States? Bloggers anywhere? Don’t forget that the law of the U.S. doesn’t apply in other countries.

    I have a blog bias. For me, blogs used to be where you express your feelings – almost like a diary. Now, it has become a place where you can freely express you opinion, thoughts and suggestions. But I still find it less trustworthy than major news sources.

    Now that I am one of the bloggers out there though, I have to start believing in bloggers. Some of them provide valuable information you will not be able to find in major news sources. And they aren’t regulated ;D

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