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FTC Regulates Blogs. Business Change ? That’ll Be $11,000.

Do you Blog? Do you believe everything you read in blogs? For that matter, do you believe what you read in newspapers and magazines, or see on television?

Or do you decide for yourself what is fact, and what is opinion, and go from there?

If you write a blog, the folks at the Federal Trade Commission have made your life a bit more interesting. In this ruling, the FTC has mandated that when you are paid to write something you have to disclose the payment.

I want to like this idea. Really, I do. But it’s just about the most ridiculous rule I’ve ever seen. Nobody paid me to write that. And I don’t think it will represent a business change for me or for you, because it isn’t enforceable.

Through a chunk of the 1990’s I was a technology journalist. I wrote for PCWorld Magazine, in addition to turning out a very popular newsletter called IYM Software Review, doing television for CBS News, and of course performing as The Computer Answer Guy. And I had rules for what I said and how, most of which I made myself because I was in charge of such things. And because it matters.

While President of the Computer Press Association I had an opportunity to call out InfoWorld publicly when they buried an advertisement for Microsoft Access in the middle of a round-up of database software products . . . and declared Access to be the best.

I believe that people need to disclose conflicts of interest, and better yet, avoid them. But these things are self-policing; the FCC is not equipped to make rules on matters like this, and nobody can enforce them meaningfully. Most “traditional” press outlets have stringent rules about what’s allowed, and it’s for this very reason that bloggers are generally not even seen as “press”.

By the way: If you send me $11,000.01, I’ll happily write something positive about you. And if you like I won’t disclose that you paid me.


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