October 8, 2009 | By Tim Jones

F.T.C. Proposes Problematic Regulation of Online Free Speech

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published vague new advertising rules that require online writers to disclose whether they've been compensated for product endorsements. The rules are full of ambiguities and double-standards, many of which are summed up on this article in The Atlantic Wire.

Significantly, the new rules place requirements on social media from which traditional print and television media are exempt. For instance, if a blogger publishes a book review, the rules will require her to disclose whether she received a free copy of the book from the publisher. Book reviews in print media face no such restrictions.

When pressed on the rules' discrepancies by blogger Edward Champion, the FTC's Michael Cleland explained that newspapers are more trustworthy than social media because "most of the newspapers have very strict rules about that and on what happens to those products." This is an unsupportable assertion, and one which seems to lie in the now time-worn assumption that the Internet is somehow more conducive to corruption and dishonesty than traditional media. We've heard this story before; it was unreasonable then and it's unreasonable now.

EFF believes that bloggers ought to have the same legal protections and privileges as traditional journalists. We urge the FTC to rethink and clarify the problematic aspects of these new rules.

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