Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Getting paid to blog about politicians?

Facebook buddy and fellow blogger RJ Marmol wrote about a reaction to my post yesterday about the US Federal Trade Commission now requiring writers on the web or bloggers to disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products.

The article from Fox News said that the FTC: 
...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 commission stopped short of specifying how bloggers must disclose conflicts of interest. Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's advertising practices division, said the disclosure must be "clear and conspicuous," no matter what form it will take.

Bloggers have long praised or panned products and services online. But what some consumers might not know is that many companies pay reviewers for their write-ups or give them free products such as toys or computers or trips to Disneyland. In contrast, at traditional journalism outlets, products borrowed for reviews generally have to be returned.
The FTC ruling clearly seeks to regulate how people and businesses use the web to sell products in order to, perhaps, protect consumers from misleading or false endorsements.  And perhaps, ensure that accountability for whatever claims or endorsements are made clearer.
FTC will more likely go after an advertiser instead of a blogger for violations. The exception would be a blogger who runs a "substantial" operation that violates FTC rules and already received a warning, he said.

Existing FTC rules already banned deceptive and unfair business practices. The final guidelines aim to clarify the law for the vast world of blogging. Not since 1980 had the commission revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials.
I think it is a positive development, considering the amount of stuff that gets put out by companies in the US and the number of times that false, erroneous, or misleading claims have caused people considerable trouble.

For most of us in the Philippines, the SPAM we get in our inbox is automatically mentally marked as irrelevant and is either ignored or deleted outright. 

A friend had once remarked that he kept getting SPAM from a company marketing penis enlargers and he was actually amazed at how the company that sells the product found out that he needed it.

In the US, however, there are a lot of bloggers who make regular endorsements of products and they get paid for endorsing products, but such arrangements are not disclosed -- leading readers to have an impression that the blogger's endorsement is not paid for.  Now, of course, there are a number of ways in which this can go terribly wrong and the challenge that the FTC may be responding to is the need to establish who should be held accountable.

Given this FTC ruling, bloggers will now have to say that they got a freebie or got paid for writing a product review.  Admitting that one is being paid, of course, makes an endorsement less credible and therefore, less effective in moving the sale of products.

Anyway, in the Philippines, a similar law would probably get bloggers indignant -- as what happened when the Philippine Congress tried to push for the Right of Reply Bill and the DoTC tried to come up with rules that affected publications on the internet.  Even a hint of any law or rule that would try to hold people to a standard of behavior on the internet would be met with widespread criticism, even from people who know nothing about the internet.

So far, the only deterrent against bloggers in the Philippines are libel suits, which only have a tendency of making the blogger even more famous. 

As my older brother would say, "They're all drama queens..." and I am not referring to Martin Cervantes who made a big stink about being made to wait before distributing relief goods at an evacuation center.  But his case can make for a good discussion.

Right now, his apology to an undisclosed person for undisclosed reasons has created a rather long thread of comments with certain Facebook users arguing that what Martin Cervantes did was an exercise of free speech -- when it was clearly not an issue of free speech.

A reporter from the Philippine Daily Inquirer even got into the fray and wielded the free speech argument, even commending Cervantes.  The reporter, whose job is to report the facts, ventured into an opinion that had nothing to do with the incident, ignored the facts, and merely betrayed his bias against Senator Richard Gordon. 

Great going dumb ass!

Why is it that whenever people get into trouble for what they say, they automatically resort to the Free Speech argument?  They do say or do something that offends people and then scurry for protection under whatever law is convenient -- they plead the right to remain silent, they plead free speech, they say that what was said was part of a private conversation, anything at all just to avoid being held accountable.

The best recourse is just to apologize for offending people, either that or just own up to the consequences.

Anyway, as far as the FTC ruling is concerned, there is a wide gulf between having to disclose that a product endorsement is paid and any kind of ruling by a Philippine government agency requiring political bloggers to disclose their relationship to the politician that they favor or disclose any financial arrangements with the politician they favor.

I don't think there is any need for such a ruling or a law, anyway.  I really doubt that politicians will pay good money for something that may only be marginally effective.


Political blogs, at least in the Philippines, don't get that much free traffic -- not as much as entertainment blogs, gadget blogs or porn blogs.  Neither do political campaign websites -- unless you promote it intensively using Google ads and Facebook ads or advertise it in mainstream media.  The reality is that if you really want to get huge traffic, your content has to be relevant to the searches on a global scale and very few people are interested in anything "Philippines".

Even the highest ranking political blogs get just 10 to 20 percent of the traffic of Filipino top entertainment and top technology blogs.

Above is the Google Keyword result for Philippine Elections. Below is the result for Wowowee.

If  a political blog were to be used as a tool for promoting or attacking a candidate, I doubt it would be of much use because the only ones who would bother to read it are either already supporters of the candidate or detractors of the candidate -- both segments constituting just 10 percent of the total volume of an already small mass of readers of political blogs.

If you wanted to use a political blog, you'd have to use it as an outlet for seeding the very few readers that you get with a viral manifesto who will in turn propagate the message.  You don't go for volume of readership, you go for quality readership and sadly, this is something that needs a lot of study in order to execute effectively.

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