Yesterday, Anthony Kirlew (thanks!) forwarded to me an article which outlined the Federal Trade Commissions (FTC) plans to regulate blogging by fining bloggers who don’t disclose their paid endorsements. As much as I think that full disclosure is important, the proposed US$11,000 per violation fine is way over the top. After all, most bloggers receive chump change for their endorsements, a little extra spending money to help them pay their bills.
Not So Clear
The new rules, which will take effect on December 1, 2009, aren’t all that clear at the moment. The FTC (thank you, Laura Spencer!) has yet to issue guidelines on how bloggers must disclose paid endorsements though “clear and conspicuous” notification must be present. Likely, that will mean some sort of badge included with each review or perhaps something similar to how newspapers currently run “Paid Advertising” notices across the top of their pages when an advertorial is included.
Before you panic, the FTC has indicated that they are more likely to go after the advertiser than the blogger. At risk are those large blogs whose business is substantial and who has been warned previously by the FTC to “cease and desist” such practice. Still, a chill went through the blogosphere on Monday when the first announcements surfaced.
Bye, Bye Internet?
The FTC ruling follows closely on the heels of a decision made by the US government late last month to relax some of its control over the internet through ICANN. A US invention, the internet has spread worldwide which means that far more people using the internet live outside of the US than in it. On the surface this appears to be a solid move, but by opening up internet control to other countries, including those hostile to freedom of speech, that move could lead to content being regulated down the line.
For instance, if you have a Christian site where you espouse that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah of the world, people in Islamic lands and elsewhere might object, perhaps shutting down your site or at least limiting its exposure. Right now, China, Vietnam and a host of dictatorial and religious freedom inhibiting countries heavily control web content. Might ceding control of the internet make it more likely that censorship will eventually become widespread? I believe that it would.
Back during the 1990s when blogging emerged as the online journalists dream come true, I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the blogosphere, preferring to connect with people via forums and chat rooms. When I finally decided to blog on a steady basis, that was in 2004 and the blogging world was rapidly maturing. WordPress quickly became the de facto blog platform for people who wanted to control their own sites, putting aside its well known growing pains to become a force to be reckoned with.
Yet, I’ve long felt that the blogosphere was a delicate resource, one that operated at the whim of those who control the internet or at least the government overseeing the same. Until the announcement that the US would cede some control of the internet to others, I didn’t think twice about my freedoms. Now, I wonder where all of this will lead and am thinking that the interlude of grass roots inspired free speech may soon pass.
I certainly hope that I’m wrong, but this latest FTC announcement does little to allay those fears. Net neutrality is another issue I’m watching, yet another change coming to the internet.
Photo Credit: Ivan Petrov