Key Perspectives on the FTC Blogger Guidelines

    December 24, 2009
    Chris Crum

An interesting development has occurred in the story of the controversial FTC guidelines for sponsored blogging/social media. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has called upon the FTC to rescind the blogger rules, and has questioned the constitutionality of them. As you may know, there have been a lot people calling them an infringement on free speech.

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The IAB says the rules unfairly and unconstitutionally impose penalties on online media for practices in which offline media have engaged for decades. In an open letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Randall Rothenberg, the President and CEO of the IAB, called the FTC’s distinction between offline media and online media, "constitutionally dubious."

Randall Rothenberg"What concerns us the most in these revisions is that the Internet, the cheapest, most widely accessible communications medium ever invented, would have less freedom than other media," he said. "These revisions are punitive to the online world and unfairly distinquish between the same speech, based on the medium in which it is delivered. The practices have long been afforded strong First Amendment protections in traditional media outlets, but the Commission is saying that the same speech deserves fewer Constitutional protections online. I urge the Commission to retract the current set of Guides and to commence a fair and open process in order to develop a roadmap by which responsible online actors can engage with consumers and continue to provide the invaluable content and services that have so transformed people’s lives."

Rothenberg’s letter can be read here in its entirety. The FTC’s guidelines are set to go into effect at the beginning of December.

WebProNews attended a keynote at the BlogWorld Expo this week, which dealt with the FTC’s forthcoming regulations. Among the speakers were Ted Murphy, CEO of the controversial IZEA, the company known for PayPerPost and sponsored tweeting, Wendy Piersall of, Jennifer Leggio, a blogger for ZDNet and Lisa Rotkin, an attorney from LA. Interestingly, about 60% of people in the room were for sponsored tweets, with very few indicating that they were against it.

Rotkin says the guidelines clarify the definition of endorsement, and that the FTC believes it has to be authenticated. She says that the blogger is as much liable as the advertiser, although recent comments from the FTC indicate that they are more concerned with the advertisers. She notes that bloggers would have to disclose relationships, but points out that there’s a gray area in how to disclose.

There are also gray areas in what is actually considered to be a sponsored post. In the session, it was said that there are 8 forms:

1. Access
2. Incentive
3. Thank you
4. Product demo
5. Advertorial
6. Paid Reviews
7. Junket
8. Payola

Rotkin says that sponsored posts aren’t right for everyone, but in some cases they are appropriate. However, she believes that bloggers aren’t looking at the long term.

Piersall says that people are able to disclose very well, and there are consequences if they do it wrong. She notes that she has no control over people’s perceptions, whether she is being sponsored or not.

Murphy, who was wearing a shirt that said "I heart the FTC" said his company has been under a lot of attack because they monetize people.

Leggio says being a popular social media/blogger person is different than being a celebrity. She says sponsored blogging doesn’t help relationships. "Do you want a spokesmodel or a thought leader?" she asked.

The character limit of Twitter is a subject that is often brought up in the FTC regulations discussion. How do you disclose on Twitter? Jeremiah Owyang, who moderated the session, doesn’t think a hashtag like #ad is enough. Murphy thinks having "tools for disclosure" is the only way. It’s unclear what these tools are exactly.

WebProNews reporter Abby Johnson contributed to this report from BlogWorld.

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