March 30, 2010

Say What You Want To Say

A while back I took offense to the recent(ish) Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requirements that bloggers and damn near anyone else disclose when they receive products and services for review or promotion. Here's how the FTC summarizes it's requirement:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers....Bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

And here's what I said about it back in August:
While I respect the end-game - to protect the consumer and encourage full disclosure - I don't want that infringing on my right to express myself and my opinions. It should not impact my writing - either the content or style - and I'm damn well not going to preface everything I say with an exhaustive accounting of why I'm saying it or the factors that could potentially influence my decision. Because that's stupid.

I bring this up again for several reasons. First, it's still bugging the hell out of me. And second, I'm getting constantly bombarded with offers to review stuff that someone somewhere thinks you would be interested in. And regardless of origin, each of these proposals is followed by a near-identical blurb that kindly informs me that the offeror is very concerned about FTC regulations and hopes that I, too, will comply.

Nine-point-nine times out of ten I say no. Why?

Primarily, I'm concerned with maintaining my personal privacy and only reluctantly divulge my last name and mailing address. (Yeah, my last name's not Cactus, I know you're shocked.) Next, whatever it is is probably of little interest to either you or me. And, finally, I don't want to be beholden to anyone for anything. So I lay out these rules:

  1. If I like it, I'll say whatever the hell I want about it.
  2. If I don't like it, I'll say whatever the hell I want about it.
  3. If it's not something I'm personally interested in, don't bother. I mean, why would I want another sex swing since I already have three in my dungeon basement and have neither the space nor structural integrity for another?
  4. If it isn't right for you - the people who read my site - I'll say absolutely nothing about it at all.
  5. If it's something completely and utterly ridiculous - like the recent spate of space pioneer vampire romance novels I've been getting press releases about - I will mercilessly make fun of whatever it is until I realize that it's someone's livelihood then I'll just feel bad.

I'm afraid this is often too much of a gamble for my marketing friends.

All of these things tend to get me out of the hassle of posting my opinions on stuff I've given - the hassle imposed by the FTC and the hassle that requires me to apply the coordinates of someone else's moral compass under the assumption that my own is somehow flawed and I, as a result, have to be told how to express myself.

Most bloggers - those who run personal sites like mine - should be perceived as experts on only one thing. Themselves. Unless they've hit the big time, they're not paid spokespeople or compensated product reviewers. They're just people, like me, with opinions. And I'm not sure we, as a group, need to be told what to write. I carved out this space six or seven years ago as my very own with the intent on saying whatever the hell I wanted to say, however I wanted to say it. I naturally bristle when I feel as though my freedom of self expression is in any way infringed upon. And honestly, I know a lot about books and music and I always give you my honest opinions on everything but if you make a decision to go buy a Camaro only because I drove one for 48 hours and thought it was cool, well, that ain't my fault.

What do you think? Is it really an imposition on self-expression or is it, overall, a good thing for consumers? Where should we draw the line with the concept of full disclosure?

Posted by Chris at March 30, 2010 8:17 AM

Amen! I am with you. Fuldi what? No thank you.

PS Your name really isnt catus? Well mine really is THE SoccerMom. Hee hee

Posted by: soccermom at March 30, 2010 8:42 AM

I think the FTC rules are an insult to most people. Does the Govt really think that people who read blogs are actually that stupid that we cannot see an endorsement?

Posted by: William at March 30, 2010 8:51 AM

I mostly think that everything imposed upon people by government entities is wasteful and elementary-school horseshit.

Having said that, I think their goal here is to ensure that if you, say, report to the masses that you LOVE this new buttplug, that you're not simply saying it because the buttplug people are paying you and you haven't actually ever used it to plug your butt. The problem with this is that there's no way for anyone other than you to ever know the plugged status of your butt anyhow, so it's all an incredibly moot point. Or rather the point is for the FTC to try to make gullible people who have a hard time thinking for themselves feel 'protected'.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at March 30, 2010 9:33 AM

On my personal blog, when I'm talking about something it's almost always something I purchased on my own and either love or hate on its own merits. I do write and edit someplace else though and I do get product there that I SOMETIMES talk about on my personal blog. It gets messy.

I think the problem is that too many people are willing to sell their voice in exchange for product or dollars. I am more than happy to take someone's money to write about something (Not that that's ever happened), but you need to know that if your product sucks, I'm gonna say so. Too many people would only post a glowing review and not write about products they received that were garbage - Those people have shaky credibility.

I dunno. I just can't believe the FTC doesn't have bigger fish to fry.

Posted by: Sarah at March 30, 2010 9:54 AM

I have to admit, I thought the whole Fish/Cactus thing was odd but hey sometimes life is like that right. So basically, I am kinda shocked about the name.

The FTC should have more important things to focus on bigger things. Although, I can see where some people would/could be dishonest and maybe set up false blogs just to endorse crap.

Posted by: debb at March 30, 2010 10:57 AM

Honestly, I think the FTC should stay the hell away from my blog. It's a sad day when bloggers no longer have their podium to stand on and exercise their right to free speech.

Disclosing if you've been paid to review something is just the first slide down a slippery slope.

Posted by: Katie at March 30, 2010 11:30 AM

Honestly, I think the FTC should stay the hell away from my blog. It's a sad day when bloggers no longer have their podium to stand on and exercise their right to free speech.

Being required to disclose if you've been paid to review something is just the first slide down a slippery slope. It's the "being required" part that bugs me.

(sorry if this posts twice)

Posted by: Katie at March 30, 2010 11:31 AM

Yeah, tell em, Cactus!!! Or erm, whoever you are... ;)

I'm with you on this one.

Posted by: Jess at March 30, 2010 1:32 PM

I've been thinking about this more and more lately too and I've come down to pretty much your same exact five points... except for maybe the part about not needing another sex swing. One can never have too many of those.

If that means the last name Cactus is free, I'm headin' down to the Name Change Office. I've never been happy with mine.

Posted by: NG at March 30, 2010 1:40 PM

I have a fan blog of a grocery store chain Fresh & Easy. They invite me to store openings and exclusive tasting and they send stuff for me to try. I still say whatever the heck I feel about the products/services. While I love the concept and a lot of the products, I still bitch about them whenever I find something I don't like. I mean, it's clear as day when we get stuff and be invited to events.

However, even before the FTC thing came out, I put a disclosure of sort on the side that we do not get paid but we do get products to review occasionally. I did it on my own because I don't want people to think I get paid for this.

The point is that I DID IT ON MY OWN. The FTC has nothing to do with it. People should have a choice.

Posted by: oakley at March 30, 2010 2:42 PM

I've been contacted several times to put ads on my blog and I say "hell no, I'm an ad free zone"!
Seriously. My blog is my life's book. So I want it to be free and clear of anything but my own crap, you know?

Posted by: Maribeth at March 30, 2010 3:02 PM

First of all, we know you will say what you want to say. It's more about the influence of free stuff. Does the fact that it was a gift influence a person's opinion? Well, it comes down to the person. We know you are painfully honest because we know your personality through years of your personal writings. However, the Internet is mostly just a bunch of strangers typing shit on their computers. For the majority, a rule like that might be warranted. For you? No.

In the end, the government shouldn't tell anyone what to say at any time and this is no exception. But if you followed their guidelines, I wouldn't think less of you.

Posted by: Brad at March 30, 2010 3:41 PM

I think you are right to do what the hell you want however if a snowboard or surf board company sent me their product to test them and then write about them I would totally do it and I wouldn't even be ashamed! But I never get anything because I hardly ever update my blog, I can't really write interesting stuffs and no one visits anyway. I just wanted to learn how to use wordpress really.
Which brings me to ask you this question: how can a man have a wife and 2 kids, a full time job, read tones of books and regularly update his blog?

Posted by: Alej at March 30, 2010 5:22 PM

I think that it's our responsibility, as readers, to be critical thinkers.

Posted by: Heather at March 30, 2010 6:02 PM

I'm in Canada so I don't have to worry about it too much, but I'm pretty much like you on that. Although I don't mind running the odd promotion (sometimes there's something in it for me), or reviewing a free product if I'm a big fan of the products. I'm kinda 'meh' about reviewing. Seems sort of boring writing, actually.

(Unless of course it was something that was cooking/food/kitchen related or a piece of technology, then I'd be all over it)

Posted by: Scatteredmom at March 30, 2010 8:32 PM

i'm the kind of person that can spot a product-placement-y type plug from a mile away and discern things for myself. unfortunately, i think there are too many people that may not so a few regs isn't the worst thing ever... plus i'd be annoyed if all my fave blogs started marketing stuff under the guise of normal blogging...

Posted by: kati at April 2, 2010 8:39 PM