The new legal guide section takes on the Federal Trade Commission's controversial "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" (the "Guidelines") that took effect on December 1, 2009. The FTC Guidelines call for bloggers, Tweeters, Facebook users, and other online publishers to disclose "material connections" they have with companies whose products or services they endorse. The Guidelines also say that bloggers may be held liable for making misleading or unsubstantiated claims about a product or service.
The Guidelines caused a bit of an uproar when the FTC announced them back in October. While some of the criticisms are no doubt well founded, there also are plenty of misunderstandings and exaggerations out there. We wanted to address some of these errors, as well as to focus on the practical side of complying with the Guidelines. On this front, we've got some good news: there's little that can't be handled with some common sense and transparency.
Our new legal guide section helps you understand what types of publishing activities are covered by the Guidelines, what constitutes a product or service "endorsement," and how to go about disclosing a relationship. Putting aside a few gray areas, the Guidelines require disclosure of only relatively established relationships with companies—like getting paid, participating in a network marketing program, or receiving a steady stream of freebies—and making disclosure is simple and straightforward. The legal guide also looks at recent public statements from the FTC staff suggesting that the agency is interested in educating rather than suing bloggers and social media users. Overall, it's fair to say the picture is not as grim as commonly supposed.
Many thanks to Harvard Law School clinical student and blogger extraordinaire Andrew Moshirnia for his assistance in putting the guide together.