The Feds Are Monitoring Your Blog

Among other things, the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for monitoring advertising to check for fraudulent or misleading claims. They also investigate suspicious endorsements by supposedly neutral parties.

Should they do the same for blogs? Like it or not, it will be happening soon.

New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers – as well as the companies that compensate them – for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.

It would be the first time the FTC tries to patrol systematically what bloggers say and do online. The common practice of posting a graphical ad or a link to an online retailer – and getting commissions for any sales from it – would be enough to trigger oversight.

If the guidelines are approved, bloggers would have to back up claims and disclose if they’re being compensated – the FTC doesn’t currently plan to specify how. The FTC could order violators to stop and pay restitution to customers, and it could ask the Justice Department to sue for civil penalties.

I have mixed feelings about all of this.

On one hand, it’s hard enough to tell the difference between “experts” and just plain old talking heads in the regular media, much less on the growing millions of sites claiming some kind of authority on the web.

So, it would be nice to have someone who’s trying to keep track of the frauds.

However, the naive, faith-in-the-self-regulated-web part of my mind doesn’t see a large US government office as the best way to accomplish the job, especially since people need to learn to validate for themselves everything delivered by all media.

Whatever happens, I doubt the new rules will affect this little rantfest since I’m too lazy to bother with ads and don’t often recommend stuff anyway (as if that would carry much influence :-).

But does this really end with blogs? Should the FTC also be monitoring traffic on Twitter, Facebook and the dozens of other social networking tools where authority is left to the mind of the reader?

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