Full Disclosure: I Wasn’t Paid to Write This

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has rewritten its rules regarding the relationships between advertisers and product reviewers in an effort to strengthen transparency in social media. Beginning Dec. 1, bloggers must disclose their relationship with an advertiser and indicate if the reviewed product was free or if the reviewer was paid for the commentary. These rules on endorsements should serve to protect consumers by requiring disclosure of the blogger/advertiser relationship. Such practices are already in place for traditional broadcast and print media.

The FTC rules serve as defacto guidelines, a code of ethics if you will. For those with formal training in the writing disciplines—be it journalism, public relations or marketing communications—the concepts of double sourcing, fact checking and disclosing affiliations is part of the writing process. More importantly, the values of transparency, independence and accountability are ingrained into a code of ethics for journalists and public relations professionals.

Unfortunately, the professional codes of ethics typically enjoy weak enforcement. Unless the outcome is particularly egregious (e.g. plagiarism at The New York Times) or fraudulent and potentially unlawful (e.g. Armstrong Williams and Ketchum’s involvement in the No Child Left Behind scandal), corrective action is rarely taken. Likewise, there is legitimate concern that the FTC rules will be difficult to enforce.

Regardless, the new rules bring parity among social and traditional media.  Further, the FTC’s action illustrates how dramatically the Internet has changed the news gathering business for journalists, editors, producers and PR and marketing professionals. Like it or not, we all must engage social media to perform our jobs.  And that means that bloggers and Tweeters also must be mindful of ethical principals such as disclosure and transparency.

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