There have been some changes to the FTC endorsement guides, as I described in my post yesterday, "Updated FTC Guidelines: Big Change, Or Storm In A Teacup?", but on the issue of revealing your connection with an advertiser, non-celebrities have always been required to disclose. This FTC video makes that point simply.
I think the new guidelines clarify the language of the law by giving up-to-date examples for non-celebrity endorsers. The last update was in 1980, long before social media and the World Wide Web.
Reading the new §255.5 Disclosure of material connections section and the now defunct part I referenced in my post, I can only find one word changed, "which," to "that".
Again the examples are significant for clarifying the meaning of the law, here’s an example about endorsement by a non-celebrity on a blog:
Example 7:A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or “blog” where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review. Because his review is disseminated via a form of consumer-generated media in which his relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious, readers are unlikely to know that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact likely would materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge. The manufacturer should advise him at the time it provides the gaming system that this connection should be disclosed, and it should have procedures in place to try to monitor his postings for compliance.
Significantly for the issue of astroturfing and Paull Young, a social media friend, who has been interested in the topic of astroturfing for a while, there's a new example:
Example 8:An online message board designated for discussions of new music download technology is frequented by MP3 player enthusiasts. They exchange information about new products, utilities, and the functionality of numerous playback devices. Unbeknownst to the message board community, an employee of a leading playback device manufacturer has been posting messages on the discussion board promoting the manufacturer’s product. Knowledge of this poster’s employment likely would affect the weight or credibility of her endorsement. Therefore, the poster should clearly and conspicuously disclose her relationship to the manufacturer to members and readers of the message board.
Significantly, the biggest change with the updated guidelines are for celebrity endorsers; previously, celebrities were exempt from revealing their material connection to an advertiser because it was assumed the public would understand that a celebrity was getting paid when endorsing a product. The FTC keeps that rule for traditional ads, but recognizes the changing nature of new media by requiring celebrities to disclosure their connections in TV shows and on social media.
In 2005, during my discussion with Ed Shull from USWeb he’d cited Tiger Woods as an example of someone who doesn’t have to disclose his connections, I’d made the point that was because he was a celebrity, and while things have changed for Tiger Woods when endorsing products in social media, I think Mr. Woods currently has other problems with non-disclosure!
I found Phil through a question on Linkedin, one of his colleagues contacted me, this is actually one of the first instances when asking a question on Linkedin I was not overwhelmed with responses. I suppose there are few cases that have been tried involving social media.
I recently gave a presentation on social media at Suffolk University. One of the audience members asked a question about the consequences of customers and the public writing critical or libelous comments in social media for a company.
That question has led me to think that it would be helpful to build a list of attorneys who have argued cases regarding social media. During the writing of my book, "Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging", the chapter on blogging guidelines and the law was the one area I found the research to be most interesting, and over time I’d like to continue understanding this area of the law, I figure understanding who has been involved with cases is the best way to keep on top of what’s happening with social media and the law.
I asked this question on linkedin, and Twitter. If you have any suggestions and references please let me know.
List of Lawyers Who Argued Cases Involving Social Media
Blogging is all about starting a conversation with another individual. I don't mind if someone from a company posts useful and relevant information on my blog. But that information has to be within the context of an existing conversation. I reserve the right to delete or edit content and links from comments on this blog if I think you are just making a sales pitch or trying to increase your SEO standing.