Blogging vs. Flogging: Federal Trade Commission Scrutinizes Sponsored Blogs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Trade Commission is targeting bloggers who get free stuff with new guidelines it plans to implement this summer.

The restrictions seeks to curb "sponsored blogging," in which bloggers write about products or services in exchange for free goods and other perks. Could this spell an end to blogs with links to company ads or online retail operations? Possibly.

The FTC's concern is that many believe what they read online, so if a blogger raves about something, it's thought to be true and honest — though that's not always the case. Many blog postings are bought and paid for and the FTC wants it to stop, reports Associated Press.

"If you walk into a department store, you know the [sales] clerk is a clerk," the FTC's Rich Cleland told Associated Press. "Online, if you think that somebody is providing you with independent advice and they have an economic motive for what they're saying, that's information a consumer should know."

On the other end of it, some bloggers are upfront about partnerships with business and point out that in this oppressive economy, such arrangements help them make ends meet — any may even be a writer's sole method of generating income. They also question that it's wrong to receive free items and, in exchange, write about them in a positive fashion.

Unlike radio or television, the Internet is not regulated by the government. So is blogging that's paid for in some way truly payola? Many, including legal experts, think not. But that doesn't mean it can't be found unethical or wrong by the government.

Under current regulations, the FTC already bans deceptive and unfair business practices. The proposed guidelines seek to expand those laws by including bloggers, which means anyone writing a personal online confessional of some kind. Organizations such as Media Bloggers Association in New York State believe bloggers should police themselves.

Should the new guidelines be approved, bloggers championing everything from kitchen gadgets to, say, cruise lines would have to back up their statements and also disclose compensation.

With tens of thousands, or maybe even hundreds of thousands, of bloggers in just the U.S. alone, it's hard to imagine how the FTC would enforce the new rules, unless it goes after blatantly obvious violators first, which seems to be the first steps it will take, according to the agency.

So, as CNET notes, if you posted on your Facebook or MySpace blog or tweeted on Twitter about a book or movie or album you liked and linked to Amazon or iTunes, you could fall under government scrutiny.

And what about affiliate linking, from mainstream to ... the adult world? Would you get in trouble with the FTC? That remains to be seen. But if you were clear that you're a partner with those related sites, maybe not.

Some critics wonder if the FTC's time wouldn't be better spent targeting genuine corporate crime, rather than penny-ante bloggers.

Also, is it really the blogger's fault if those perusing a blog believe everything they read? When did the Internet become the truth and nothing but?

Download the proposed FTC blogging guidelines here.