American bloggers will be forced to declare any interest in products reviewed or discussed in their blogs under new rules announced on Monday by the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC’s revisions to its existing guidance are intended as an aid to advertisers to keep their work within the FTC Act, part of which covers endorsements by consumers, experts, organisations, and celebrities, as well as the disclosure of important connections between advertisers and endorsers. They will come into force on December 1 this year.
The FTC revisions reflect growing concern about the use of social media, such as blogs and networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, as undeclared advertising fronts for commercial entities, a practice that has come to be known as “astroturfing”.
In the United Kingdom and Europe, protection from such unscrupulous practices already exists, under the terms of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which came into force in May 2008.
“The UK and Europe is actually ahead of the game on this one,” Struan Robertson, a legal director with the internet law specialists Pinsent Masons, told The Times. “Under the terms of the regulations, failing to declare that editorial content has been paid for is punishable by up to two years in prison, and falsely representing yourself as an individual when you are a company is a crime.”