In America the Federal Trade Commission have come out with some interesting rules on the disclosure required by bloggers and twitter users that are seeded free “stuff”. Locally we have no such regulations and it’s interesting to see what sort of regulations have been put forward:
- Where and how to disclose: As far back as 2009, the FTC was already publicly recommending that disclosures not be buried at the bottom of a post or on a separate page
- The disclosure needs to travel with the content: The disclosure must be in every Tweet. You can’t tweet a single disclosure that covers the whole conversation; there is no guarantee that readers will see the disclosing statement. The hashtag #spon is not sufficiently clear. The word “ad” is sufficiently clear, but needs to be in a prominent place. The FTC also suggests not using a #ad hashtag after a URL or shortlink as it could be overlooked.
- Longer disclosure required: When an advertising claim merits a longer disclosure than is practical for the format, a hyperlink to additional information is acceptable, provided that anything material, or “triggering” is included in the original advertisement and the link is clear and conspicuous. In other words, you cannot bury CRITICAL disclosures in hyperlinked pages, but you can provide additional details.
All good points but I think the important issue to consider here is what is needed to disclose? If someone sends me to drive a car do I need to disclose considering the post is my opinion? I suppose the reality is that my post is still tainted by the fact that I was given the opportunity and send on a plane for free. Ultimately I want to be sent back to drive more cars so I will be slightly biased towards the product.
The issue gets more complex when you’re paid to write a post or paid by an advertiser for a banner or advertorial. I’m obviously going to be particularly pro a company that is paying me money. However, the important issue to consider is the credibility of the writer. If a company advertising kids toys approached me with a financial benefit for featuring their product I’d have no desire to feature anything unless it had a great technology or business angle. Long story short: bloggers without integrity are the problem and theoretically these writers will come across as inauthentic so they’ll rapidly be “caught out” for their blatant brand whoring.
I’m not convinced a disclosure is necessary; it makes a post automatically seem like a useless advertorial to me and this defeats the point. What we need is for the average blogger to become a little more discerning and not chase after a freebie or cash prize. Unfortunately if an advertiser came up to almost anyone and offered them a few thousand rand to write about any old product they’d most definitely take it.
Is money ruining online writing or making it better? I’m convinced making “amateur” online writing more professional by adding a financial incentive is a winner in terms of everyone benefiting and a disclaimer only makes someone look “bought”.