The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recently begun plans to regulate blogger endorsements on the internet, a forum where one can find opinions and endorsements in abundance. In particular, the FTC wants to regulate bloggers who offer endorsements of products but who do not reveal that they are receiving compensation for their opinions. Basically, bloggers who get paid to review a product (or to flat out endorse it) will have to say so up front.
It’s clear that the FTC is attempting to institute rules that will regulate the practices of the mostly untamed blogosphere (the internet environment made up of casual and professional bloggers) and it is being met with mixed reactions. Some bloggers scoff at the idea that if they mention a product they have used and liked that they will suddenly come under a federal investigation. Other bloggers (like Wallet Blog), however, see the FTC’s plan as a reasonable and necessary step towards introducing accountability in what has, thus far, proven a fairly frivolous media.
The most prominent issues the FTC should expect to face in implementing their plans are the same issues that have always plagued attempts to regulate the internet, and we at Wallet Blog wonder how they plan to get around these issues. First, if the FTC is planning on regulating a blog, what exactly is it calling a blog? Given the range of websites that can be referred to as blogs, will it be regulating all those sites, including newsblogs, personal blogs, and facebook accounts? Will different rules apply to blogs set up by corporations rather than individuals? What, if anything, does the FTC expect to do about international blogs that cater to a U.S. audience? The scope of the internet allows for all manner of blogs to exist including blogs that don’t neatly fall into the category of blog. This diversity has otherwise stifled attempts to regulate the internet in the past and the FTC hasn’t yet made public just how it plans to deal with this diversity now.
The second major issue that the FTC will have to face is the nature of what exactly counts as endorsement in the information age. Is a good review the only kind of endorsement that they will recognize? What about professional spin-bloggers who rewrite Wikipedia articles into corporate advertisements or who comment on blogs to endorse their products? What about the enormous amount of spiteful comments that tend to show up on blogs and message boards? Will the FTC be tracking those down as well to determine whether someone was paid to make them?
In the end, the FTC is going to have to find a way to deal with the internet’s scope and diversity if it hopes for any success with its plan. We at Wallet Blog would be glad if the FTC could introduce integrity into the blogosphere as we believe that the internet should be a place where one can attain reliable information. We wonder, however, just how they plan to do this or even if they know the sort of problems they are likely to face. Attempts to regulate the internet have in the past proven absolute failures: internet pornography is as rampant and accessible as it ever was, as are opportunities for copyright infringement through file sharing. If the FTC hopes to succeed, they will need a plan that is radically different from its predecessors.