Wednesday, October 7, 2009

FTC regulation 'Insanity and inanity. And danger.' - Jeff Jarvis

... And there is the greatest myth embedded within the FTC’s rules: that the government can and should sanitize the internet for our protection. The internet is the world and the world is messy and I don’t want anyone – not the government, not a newspaper editor – to clean it up for me, for I fear what will go out in the garbage: namely, my rights. - Jeff Jarvis

Howard Kurtz, in his subhead Blogging for Pay appears to miss my point completely when he writes, "At first blush, I like the new FTC rule that bloggers be required to disclose when they're being paid off by the companies they're writing about."

I hesitate to suggest that as the protected class of "press" writers you aren't directly affected by this and are free to like the ruling.

At first blush, who wouldn't. I mean who wouldn't like to see the spammers and pay-for-post rackets get slammed with an $11,000 FTC fine.

Note to FTC: How about you regulate the spammers, and those idiot telemarketers who aren't complying with the federal do not call list?

Jarvis points out more chaff in this regulation:

There are so many bad assumptions inherent in the FTC’s rules.

First, Pay Per Post et al, as I realized late to the game, are not aimed at fooling consumers. Who would read the boring, sycophantic drivel its people write? No, they are aimed at fooling Google and its algorithms. It’s human spam. And it’s Google’s job to regulate that.

Unintended consequences anyone?

And what about automated ads, such as those from Google? I have been writing nice things about my treatment at Sloan Kettering. This has caused ads to come up on my blog, via Google, from the hospital. Presuming someone clicked on them, I’ve made money from the hospital. Does that taint what I say or me if I don’t disclose the payment? That’s the level of absurdity this can reach.

Dan Gillmor, writing in Mediactive finds the whole business A Dangerous Federal Intervention in Social Media.

"Sounds good, doesn’t it. But when you read the FTC’s ruling, published today, you get the sense of a government-gone-wild travesty. Why?" he asks.

First, the new system is unworkable in practice, which is bad enough. Worse, the rules are worryingly vague and wide-ranging. Worse yet, they appear to give traditional print and broadcast journalists a pass while applying harsh regulations to bloggers (and others using conversational media of various kinds). Worst and most important, they are, in the end, an attack on markets and free speech, based on a 20th Century notion of media and advertising that simply doesn’t map to the new era.
But I do predict one outcome of this FTC action: a slew of court cases. This is a full employment act for First Amendment lawyers, who have better things to do.

Thank you!

You can't have the government deciding who is and who isn't covered by the 1st Amendment freedom of the press.

My crotchety former editor loved to point out that "that freedom applies to anybody who owns a press." But today, the Web is my press. The Internet is my sandbox and means of distribution and my audience, and I'll be damned if I'm going to comply with this regulation because the FTC said so.

Let the blogger beware - you're credibility is your own to spend or squander as you please.

Let the reader beware - buying a Buick won't give you mad golfing skills.

In the long run, the 24/7 crush of information about everything but everything will sort out the wheat from the chaff.

I love Edward Champion's (Reluctant Habits) dogged Interview with the FTC's Richard Cleland, not just because it's hardball interviewing goodness, but because you see some of the subjectivity of their own regulation.

The primary situation is where there’s a link to the sponsoring seller and the blogger,” said Cleland. And if a blogger repeatedly reviewed similar products (say, books or smartphones), then the FTC would raise an eyebrow if the blogger either held onto the product or there was any link to an advertisement.
Cleland insisted that when a publisher sends a book to a blogger, there is the expectation of a good review. I informed him that this was not always the case and observed that some bloggers often receive 20 to 50 books a week. In such cases, the publisher hopes for a review, good or bad. Cleland didn’t see it that way.

“If a blogger received enough books,” said Cleland, “he could open up a used bookstore.”

My crotchety former editor insisted we put all freebies into a communal company yardsale and pay for them - donating the proceeds to a charity of our democratic choosing.

"I put $20 in the yardsale envelope - I have atoned for us all," he declared after the chocolate festival sent a care package of perishables that couldn't wait for the next irregularly scheduled charity sale - juice from the chocolate covered behemoth strawberry dripping down his chin.

So, Mr. Cleland, do we mail the raw fruit back to the festival organizers, or just walk downstairs and hand the whole box to that homeless guy who dressed like a pimp and hung around the Inner Harbor?

Would we have to declare the value - minus the aggregated donation to Frisky's Animal Shelter?

How do you value a bag of dirt, a single shoe, a bra or any of the other bizarro PR stunts we have been mailed over the years? (Oh, I do miss working in a newsroom!)

What if the freebie is from a PR person - vaguely connected to the product or service they are paid to hawk (a care package including single-shot servings of Skyy Vodka for a new spa)?

Is that any different from samples of a product a company is desperate for a health reporter to write about?

What if I drink the Vodka but didn't write about the spa? How do I declare that?

Who declares the inevitable items that "fall off" the yardsale table?

Mashable handicaps the rules:

Beyond straight up pay-per-post systems like Izea, it the new rules would seemingly apply to any situation where something of value changes hands between advertiser and blogger. For example, General Mills and Ford Fiesta bloggers would have to disclose the relationship they have with the advertiser.

The Tick

"Gravity is a harsh mistress!"