Trust and ethics are ingredients of traditional advertising wherein consumers have grown to expect acceptable levels of compliance; and not tolerate deceptive advertising practices. The Federal Trade Commission [FTC] is one of the government agencies responsible for monitoring and policing violators of the public trust in this arena. Blogging and tweeting, on the other hand, have escaped the scrutiny of the FTC, until now. Soon, the FTC will be monitoring claims and endorsements in blogs. In the future, will representations that are non-typical be given safe harbor in blogs and social media? It looks like tainted endorsements and claims about products and services that are not typical will be considered deceptive; and bloggers making these claims or endorsements …
… may soon be under the scrutiny of the FTC.
Clamping down on blogs and bloggers who post tainted endorsements and who make incredible claims, will be quite a task, in and of itself. Enforcement should prove interesting, especially with many blogs being written by people not residing in the United States. Monitoring and addressing deceptive advertising in other forms of social media presents other interesting questions and dilemmas. For example, on Twitter, how can a twit make an incredible claim and disclaim it; plus add a clickable link; all in a 140 characters or less? That would be the challenge for tweets; should they fall under the new scrutiny of the FTC. Once the FTC identifies violators, then what will they do and how will they be able to eradicate the problems?
Although I am opposed to censoring personal expression, I am supportive of maintaining ethics in advertising of all types. To that extent, I believe claims and endorsements in blogs and tweets need to be truthful and forthright; no different than in traditional forms of advertising. If you make claims about your personal results, first and foremost, those claims need to be factual. If you say you are making $50,000 per day, you need to be able to prove you are consistently making $50,000 per day. If you say you have a system that will generate a gazillion users, followers, clicks, or whatever, then you need to be able to prove you have been able to consistently produce those results. If, however, that statement is not factual and provable and you benefited due to actions of others in reliance upon your claims; then you should be liable for all damages sustained by those who relied upon the deceptive statements. Second, in this same example, in the event you are actually realized the results claimed and this realization is not a typical result, then the typical results need to also be stated conspicuously. A simple disclaimer saying these results are not typical is not enough. Ideally, these two rules would be applied similarly to other endorsements and claims; whether they are for weight loss, improved health, or any other quantifiable results. Additional comments relative hereto were recently solicited by the FTC, as noted in the FTC Endorsement Guide
As a side note, although beyond the scope of the newly planned monitoring of blogs by the FTC, this author believes that equally important to consumers and taxpayers, are elections, ballot measures and political campaigns; some of the biggest violators of deception in advertising in this country. Truth in advertising, because of the gravity and magnitude of the potential damage in the election and campaign process, transcends civil damages. Deception at this level should be prosecuted criminally; as egregious felonies or acts of treason.