According to Yahoo! Tech, the Federal Trade Commission is preparing to launch a program in which it will “go after bloggers — as well as the companies that compensate them — for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.” You know the types they’re talking about: bloggers who pretend to be random readers posting comments about great products or services when, in actuality, they are shills being paid to shape public opinion.
I’m all for outing bloggers who fail to adhere to the ethical standards that I employ on CharterWave, including clearly labeling all sponsored content and identifying advertisers as such whenever writing about them.
However, I can’t help but notice that this new FTC policy would actually be stronger than what is used against, say, magazine writers. For instance, I am regularly encouraged by some magazines to gloss over honest reporting that would make advertisers angry; in other words, to fail to disclose a conflict of interest if I want to keep my job as a writer. Ironically, because it costs so much less to publish information online, I find it easier to be honest with readers and forgo certain advertising revenue (and pressures) altogether in the medium that the FTC is now seeking to regulate so strongly.
I agree that a problem exists with honesty online, but in my opinion, it is part of a broader problem with integrity in all media. The FTC’s singling out bloggers for possible punishment, to me, seems a bit like placing an ill-wagged finger from a black-and-white world into a dike of continually murky, gray water.