Danica Lo, editor of the fashion website Racked, has been haranguing Federal Trade Commission officials to explain why the agency now requires online media (like blogs) to disclose any free products or gifts they receive from manufacturers but not print media (like magazines). One FTC attorney, Tracey Thomas, told Lo she didn’t know why her agency discriminated against online media. Another employee, FTC “social media specialist” Cheryl Hackley, said the reason was simple:
The issue is—and always has been—whether the audience understands the reviewer’s relationship to the company whose products are being reviewed. If the audience gets the relationship, a disclosure isn’t needed. For a review in a newspaper, on TV, or on a website with similar content, it’s usually clear to the audience that the reviewer didn’t buy the product being reviewed. It’s the reviewer’s job to write his or her opinion and no one thinks they bought the product—for example, a book or movie ticket—themselves. But on a personal blog, a social networking page, or in similar media, the reader may not expect the reviewer to have a relationship with the company whose products are mentioned. Disclosure of that relationship helps readers decide how much weight to give the review.
Lo, who has worked in print and online media, called B.S. on this:
[T]he FTC has no idea what goes on behind the scenes in the women’s print media and publishing industry and the FTC’s advertising division has never monitored the relationship between the editorial and advertising sides of women’s publications; and, while technically (secretly, we’d call it) print publications ought to disclose the free stuff they get when it’s not obvious (we especially like The Cut‘s example of how a print disclosure could read: “Miu Miu shoes, $985; borrowed, not returned, now worn by new editorial assistant Lisa when she’s not wearing her Givenchy ankle booties, $1,295 (opposite page)”), they haven’t yet been made an example of, like bloggers have.
So what’s really going on here? As I’ve said before, the blogging mandates are just part of the FTC’s overall campaign to control the Internet. The Leibowitz regime’s basic strategy is to make customers so afraid of using the Internet for commerce that they’ll come begging the FTC to take over. Leibowitz minion Mary Engle said as much to Lo:
I encourage you and anybody to complain to the FTC because that’s how we find out about practices. It’s compliance. [Sometimes we learn about things by] reading the trade press. If you think there are deceptive practices going on, bring them to our attention. The more facts you can provide, the better.
Imagine a world where every blogger’s failure to disclose a free pair of shoes they review triggers a time-consuming, expensive FTC investigation. Mary Engle can imagine that world, and she likes it.