FTC Blogger Disclosure: Are You in Compliance?
One of the stipulations of being part of the Association of Food Bloggers is that you disclose freebies that you are given. Besides durables like books or cooking utensils, this includes any free meals that you are given. It is just part of our ethical standards, and, well, the right thing to do. So, if you are reviewing a restaurant based on a free meal, you should be disclosing (somewhere in the post) that you received the meal for free. However, the FTC made it law that bloggers much disclose such freebies just over a year ago.
Did you know that this extends to even Facebook and Twitter? And there are hefty fines (up to $11,000) if found guilty of non-disclosure. View the full guidelines here. We perused the document but didn't read it in it's entirety (it is 81 pages) and it seems like it gives the FTC free reign to investigate anyone, who endorses a product if the FTC finds that the product was anything other than a cash for product / service transaction.
So why is the FTC targeting bloggers more than others? They point to the fact of the growing power and clout of blogs. This stealthy Social Media Marketing could convince someone to unknowingly purchase a good or service that was a paid endorsement. In 2007, the blog-for-profit was worth 1.35 million according to Word of Mouth Marketing. We surmise that this is mostly aimed at electronic goods (think mobile phones, video games, mp3 players and more). Of course, food bloggers are not exempt.
We aren't bringing this information to light to scare you. Quite the contrary, we just want you to know what the rules are and how to play by them. The best advice, based on what we know, is that it is worth it to write somewhere in post "Full Disclosure: This was a free meal provided by Abc restaurant."
How's this for kicking you while you are down? News organizations are exempt from the law. Yep, those places that make a ton of money and get sent freebies nonstop in hopes a review, never have to report that they received said product for free. Doesn't seem fair that the FTC would let reporters and news organizations who do publish reviews get away scot free, while Joe Schmoe's blog must stand under fire for having a free pizza at Jack's Pizza, does it?
If we understand this correctly, the FTC believes bloggers are receiving product for endorsement whereas a news outlet receives these same items for review. In the eyes of the FTC, receipt of said goods constitutes compensation. So, we have to wonder, when a news outlet receives a book to review, do they always mail it back to the media company that sent it to them? Is the FTC verifying this? Great list of further questions for the FTC can be found here.
While we firmly believe in disclosure - you wouldn't want to buy a car based on a paid endorsement from a blogger would you? - We believe no one should be exempt from this disclosure. Only time will tell how these new laws will play out and what impact they will truly have. As we are part-time conspiracy theorists, we have to wonder if this disclosure paves the way to taxation on these goods.
Most bloggers are reputable and disclose freebies. Truthfully, shouldn't everyone be held to the same standards, journalists or not? It seems like this is opening up nearly everyone for false or unfair probing, and creating much extra and unnecessary work, all at taxpayer expense.
PS - I've been jamming out to 80s music on Pandora Internet Radio while I wrote this. Full Disclosure: No one paid me to say that.