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blogger-rightsYou could say it was a move thirty years in the making. The Federal Trade Commission updated its endorsement policy for the first time in over three decades Monday, this time amending what’s actually an 81 page document to finally include guidelines on bloggers. Most specifically, the update refined how bloggers should treat endorsements and their associated payments.

New FTC rules mandate that any blogger who offers an endorsement in their postings must disclose any payments received for the acknowledgement. Failure to do so could lead to a penalty of up to $11,000. Pretty steep, right? The FTC tells The Washington Post that it’s only trying to keep up with the times.

“Given that social media has become such a significant player in the advertising area, we thought it was necessary to address social media as well,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director for the division of advertising practices at the FTC.

The amendment should appease consumer interest groups (who had long griped over the FTC’s outdated regulations) but frustrate bloggers, many of whom are worried that they’ll come under scrutiny even if they offer the smallest of endorsements. Others, like Technologizer’s Harry McCracken, suggest that the real trouble lies in the vast amount of grey area wherein bloggers operate.

“I don’t mind being held to a high standard. But I’m still scratching my head over exactly how to make the FTC happy. The “material connections” are especially mystifying-since most of Technologizer’s revenue is derived from advertising, and most of our advertisers are technology companies, many of whom we cover in articles, we have “material connections” all over the place. Does the FTC want Technologizer to run a disclosure each time we mention a product from a company who’s advertised on this site? I’m not sure.”

Don’t worry too much though, bloggers. Keeping track of the blogosphere is something that will likely prove next to impossible for the FTC. In fact, Cleland has already admitted to certain concessions from the initial reports, one such being that advertisers must be aware of the blogger receiving a freebie for the blogger to be found liable. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, fines won’t be handed out on a one-and-done basis. As Deborah Yao and Emoiy Fredrix reported, a blogger would have to run a “’substantial’ operation that violates FTC rules and already [have] received a warning” to be at risk.

And while the blogosphere has been all abuzz the past two days with criticism of the policy, the truth is that the FTC’s intentions should be lauded. Blogs are a blessing and a curse in the world of advocacy. With so many different voices floating around, it’s easy to get caught up in a piece of support that may not be appropriately accurate. Say there’s a food blogger who gets free meals in return for positive reviews. Without disclosing that information, that blogger would be giving potentially false information to the public. The FTC’s new standards mandate that you let the public know what’s a gift exchange and what’s a proper review.

In essence, it’s moving blog credibility one step closer to that of traditional media outlets. And maybe we don’t read them as often as we used to, but it’s those traditional media outlets we still recognize as the most authoritative and honest sources around.

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