FTC to Regulate Blogger Speech

Posted by Chris Kieff on April 16th, 2009

On April 2nd the Federal Trade Commission announced revised guidelines on endorsements and testimonials which are now under review and expected to be adopted according to The Financial Times 4/2/09.

These new rules, “…would hold companies liable for untruthful statements made by bloggers and users of social networking sites who receive samples of their products…”, according to the FT article, “…If a blogger received a free sample of skin lotion and then incorrectly claimed the product cured eczema, the FTC could sue the company for making false or unsubstantiated statements. The blogger could be sued for making false representations…”

What remains unclear is the impact this could have upon community owners where users make untrue statements. Can a company that owns and operates a community be liable for the actions of bloggers on their community and liable with an advertiser?

What about the case where the community owner works with an advertiser to distribute free samples of a product and then solicits comments from the user community.  Could the advertiser and the community manager be held liable for false advertising if claims were made by users who received free samples in that case?  And the situation can get more muddy, what if a blogger receives the free sample and then makes a simple comment on another blog with a misstatement in it?  Or what if in a general free sample offer a blogger is inadvertently a recipient of a free sample and subsequently makes a misstatement?

It’s impossible to separate a blogger from non-blogger.  Does anyone who writes a comment on a public community site become in effect a “blogger”?  What about people who only write comments on other blogs but do it in large volume and develop followings with technologies such as Discus?

The implications for community managers, and brands that wish to advertise and utilize social media marketing techniques can be very serious.  You should read the FTC notice and pay close attention to this rule change.

This is going to be a sticky wicket that the FTC will have to figure out and they will need to make sure they understand how it will affect the common man before they move forward.

And finally, since the FTC may be listening, these opinions are those of the author and do not reflect the official opinions of Ripple6 or Gannett Company.  Image by Uploaded on August 20, 2005 by dbking on Flickr

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  • http://www.rickboretsky.com Rick Boretsky

    Ludicrous, but not surprising. The FTC obviously doesn’t get it! The entire growth of on-line communities and social media is a direct reflection of the public’s desire to have a public forum to discuss, criticize, and recommend products, news, and ideas as they see fit. The communities will themselves weed out the bad from the good through the sheer power of numbers and conversations. Old rules, regulations cannot apply to this new media.

  • http://www.mikeghouse.net Mike Ghouse

    too much regulation is bad! However, establishing responsibilities for the harm one does to others at large becomes a necessity. It is common sense not to malign, libel and incite hate, let people follow that and let there be a law that prescribes penalty for violation of such law.

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