Since writers started publishing (long before anyone thought of “blogging”) the need for transparency and disclosure has been important. People should be able to reasonably identify bias in someone’s writing, particularly a “reporter,” when that person is being paid or compensated in a way which could influence their shared ideas. The English Wiktionary currently defines “full disclosure” in the context of journalism as:
The disclosure of any connection between a reporter (or publisher) and the subject of an article that may bias the article.
In the case of blogs which cater to specific audiences, like Mommy-blogs, the line between objective evaluations of commercial products and paid-for product placement posts has often been blurred. The NPR story from July 2009, “Mom Bloggers Debate Ethics Of ‘Blog-Ola'” highlights some of these issues. According to the story:
“Blog-ola” is the free goodies, products, trips and other perks many marketers are giving to bloggers in hopes of getting favorable publicity or positive reviews. It’s a hot topic among “mommy-bloggers” in particular, who are proving to be quite influential with their readers.
The main issue is this: If a person or company gives a blogger something for free, and the blogger later writes something about that product, company, or individual, the background gift should be disclosed openly so the reading audience is not deceived into thinking the opinions they are reading are reasonably objective. In the left sidebar of my blog, I have a clear link to my own disclosure policy, and I always provide a “full disclosure” statement on any posts in which a conflict of interest might be perceived or real.
I used the free website disclosurepolicy.org to create and then modify a personal disclosure policy. Educational blogger Miguel Guhlin has one of the most comprehensive and transparent blog disclosure policies I’ve seen to date. Last November, on day 24 of his “30 Days to Being a Better Blogger” series, Steve Dembo titled his post, “Disclose Yourself.” He encouraged bloggers to have a disclosure policy, follow their announced policy, and indicate in posts when a possible conflict of interest is present that would introduce bias into information shared online. That was excellent advice eleven months ago, and it’s even more important advice today.
This afternoon, the New York Times published the AP article, “Bloggers Must Disclose Payments for Reviews.” According to the article:
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.
The FTC said Monday its commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final Web guidelines, which had been expected. Violating the rules, which take effect Dec. 1, could bring fines up to $11,000 per violation. Bloggers or advertisers also could face injunctions and be ordered to reimburse consumers for financial losses stemming from inappropriate product reviews.
The guidelines from Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s advertising practices division, are that:
…disclosure must be ”clear and conspicuous,” no matter what form it will take.
The new rules don’t take effect for a couple months, but it’s never been too early to create a disclosure policy.
Blog With Integrity is a site setup this past July to promote ethical blogging, including full disclosure. If you don’t have a disclosure policy on your blog, consider using and modifying one created with disclosurepolicy.org.
In his post today, “Enterprise 2.0: The phrase, the concept, the time scale,” David Weinberger models in-post disclosure which goes above and beyond “the call of duty” at the end of his first paragraph, using brackets. He wrote:
[Disclosure: Andrew is a Berkman Fellow. And Euan, Stowe, and Andrew are all friends of mine. And, while I’m at it, Euan’s post positively cites something I once said.]
The FCC isn’t requiring that we go to these lengths of disclosure, but U.S. bloggers WILL need to do more than many have done to date to meet the new FCC edict effective December 1st.
For other blog disclosure policy examples, check out the bottom of Will Richardson’s about page, Doug Johnson’s endorsement policy page, and Kevin Jarrett’s disclosure policy. (Also don’t miss Miguel Guhlin’s, which I previously mentioned.) It was harder than I thought it would be to find sample disclosure polices on Edublogger sites. I’m expecting that will be changing in the next couple months!
Here’s a collaborative wiki idea for someone to start, or something which could be added to the “Support Blogging” wiki: Start a list of sample edublog disclosure policy links!
Hat tip to Blog Oklahoma for the link to this NYT article. See the FTC press release, “FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials” for more details. This appears to be the key guideline.
The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.
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