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Blogging Guidelines from FTC and Changing Laws in the Age of the Social Web

Submitted by on October 8, 2009 – 8:54 pmNo Comment

We are at the beginning of a long rewrite of laws as a direct result of the rise of the Social Web.

Early this week, the FTC posted updated guidelines governing paid endorsements and sponsorships (first update since 1980).  It covers, among other things the role of paid sponsorship for bloggers.  The gist of the changes are summarized on the FTC’s website

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service

While there was much gnashing of teeth on the particulars I am more interested in how much the law will change over our lifetimes as a direct result of issues raised by our move to the Social Web – where everyone is connecting, publishing, reading, gaming and transacting commerce in the cloud.

Consider just a few issues on the table:

  • Redefining intellectual property and copyright laws
  • The use of social networks in investigations
  • Judges allowing Twitter in the courtroom
  • Location-based data (from your phone of course) as forensic evidence in trials
  • “Workplace bullying” replacing sexual harrassment as the number one workplace legal issue as employers and employees “friend” each other – then behave badly
  • The ownership of personally identifiable information leaking everywhere will lead to a whole new crop of privacy laws (see my interview with Drew Bartkiewicz on Data Privacy in the Age of Social Networks)
  • Jury selection and change-of-venue motions.  Consider that videos taken from mobile cameras and uploaded to the internet capturing the BART shooting in my town had over one million views within 24 hours.

These are but a few examples of current legal challenges where new laws will be made and precedents set.  Sponsorship and endorsement is just a drop in the bucket.

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