Tuesday, October 06, 2009

More on Swag

We've written before about the problems inherent in accepting "freebies" from vendors. Although we've been spared an onslaught of such offers (Hello, BMW!), we've received a few over the years (only two come readily to mind: a book from OU Press and a promotional package from Minnesota Blue Cross). In both cases, we acknowledged receipt, and reviewed the products. Obviously, our chosen niche is one which doesn't easily lend itself to such gimme's; it'd be very difficult for a carrier to send us a free insurance policy, for example.

Apparently, though, a number of bloggers have been remiss in disclosing the fact that they received such goodies for free, and then wrote glowing reviews of them. In today's McPaper, we learn that this has become enough of a problem that the FTC is stepping in:

"The Federal Trade Commission will try to regulate blogging for the first time, requiring writers on the Web to clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products."

For now, the guidelines don't specify how a blogger must disclose this potential conflict of interest, only that it must be "clear and conspicuous." That seems simple enough: a short sentence at the beginning (or end) of a review that tells readers how one came to acquire that which one has reviewed. It's a shame that it's come to this: surely it wasn't too much to ask that this be "self-policed" by the blogging community, rather than the heavy hand of government. But it's a reasonable supposition that enough people got "burned" relying on reviews by bloggers who did not disclose their source that this kind of action seems valid.

The only real question for me is whether or not this portends a "slippery slope" toward more government regulation of the blogosphere. For the most part, the unofficial motto of the 'sphere ("we'll fact-check your ... ") would seem to be sufficient. But how do you fact-check a review done by (frequently anonymous) bloggers who don't disclose a potential conflict of interest? I don't know, but would welcome comments from readers on the subject.
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