Since December 1st, 2010, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is cracking down on website owners who publish articles endorsing a product or service without disclosing the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. “Material Connection” means payments, freebies and traded products/services, samples exchanged between vendors and writers of those endorsements.
The same rules already exist for all other non digital medias since a very long time, here in the US, Europe, Asia and most developed countries around the world. The legislator just try to catch up with a relatively new media – Internet – where “pay-for-endorsement” is a practice employed in all sectors, including the motorcycle industry.
I am always a proponent of minimum regulations, but at the same time I agree that online magazine and blog readers must not be deceived, have to know if they read real news or an infomercial, and must be able to identify what is journalism and reporting by opposition to “paid endorsements”. Since December 1st of last year, not only publishers have to disclose in their articles their relation to marketers, but marketers of products and services have also to disclose the money or freebies they gave to be endorsed in articles.
Although the new FTC regulations are still being criticized in their formulations and in the way they are intended to be enforced, those in the online community who are paid to review products have 11,001 reasons to disclose their relation with vendors. First, honesty. Second, because fines for violating the rules run up to $11,000 per article or post. Personally I was appalled to see an online motorcycle magazine publicly advertise in its website, visible to all readers, that it was offering to vendors as many published articles as they required in exchange of a yearly paid fee! Well, I state again that I don’t sell my articles in any manner (no money exhange, free products, services, trades, samples, etc.), even to my sponsors who are running a banner in my Blog (this strict ethical rule is printed in our Media Kit and published in our website under “Terms of Service”.) I write what I want when I want.
For those who need now to disclose that they receive a form of compensation for their writing, a new company named Cmp.ly proposes a system of icons to be placed in articles to disclose the nature of a financial relation with a vendor. People reading an article can click an icon (as featured), a short code that brings them to a website detailing the kickback received, whether it’s a free product or a cash payment. A much better idea than writing a full sentence of disclosure in each article for readers to see before they start reading an article. Some big companies already use Cmp.ly services for disclosure. No chance you will ever see any of these icons in my posts. I don’t have to.