The FTC has decided to go after bloggers who review products. Apparently, there’s concern that some are writing dishonestly positive reviews of various items (shoes, books, cocktail sauce, what have you) in order to get more free stuff.
Stop the presses!
You mean somebody might actually use his or her position as a reviewer to get free stuff? You mean like the way fashion and lifestyle magazines cherry pick the products they feature in their “editorial” pages based on who’s purchased ad space with them? Do you mean, for example, like the way book reviewers in print media get to keep all the books publishers send them to review? Or the way movie stars show up for “interviews” on Letterman for the sole purpose of plugging their latest movie? Or the way movie producers accept free cases of Diet Coke for their film crews in exchange for “product placement” in their movies?
Oh, wait. I get it. If it’s in print, on TV, or on film, it’s okay. But if the blogosphere is doing it, well get out your regulatory pen.
The saving grace of the blogosphere is this: as soon as someone is outed as being a shill for any particular company, the gig is up. The blogosphere has its weaknesses for sure (casualness, wild forays into unreliability, flame wars, etc.). But when it comes to the crassly dishonest facade of editorial integrity with regard to product reviews, no one beats print. Just talk to anyone who works in the magazine industry. You know that stellar review you just read about a hotel in Timbuktu? The same hotel just put up the editorial staff of that magazine for free and fed them champagne all weekend.
I think this new move by the FTC is yet another example of the fear many people have of a future democratized by the Internet. But that future is already here. And, seriously, it’s not nearly as scary as you think.