When the US Federal Trade Commission last Monday published its amended Guidelines for commercial publishers’ behavior, set to go into effect December 1, many sources ended up passing judgment on the document before having read it in its entirety. One misinterpretation that was passed around the blog-O-square like a hot potato was the notion that the FTC would impose an ,000 fine for each offense where a blog failed to disclose its connections to the manufacturer of a product for which it posted a review.
One blogger, whose tagline is “an Internet entrepreneur who generates six figures online per year,” chocked up the supposed fine as another example of the government’s “infinite wisdom.” Meanwhile, quite ironically, discussion of the fine on one of the world’s more popular blogs managed to become newspaper material by way of the Washington Post.
The problem is, the whole idea is a fantasy; and in a group interview arranged by the publishers of Fast Company, published today, FTC Assistant Director for Advertising Practices Richard Cleland said as much, in response to a direct question from a blogger who stated her opinion that such a fine is “a little crazy.”
“That ,000 fine is not true,” responded Cleland. A first-time violator, he said, would be given a cease-and-desist order. Any monetary penalty that may arise would come only when the recipient of such an order fails to take heed, and it might not even get that high. A first offense, Cleland said, could be categorized as a “mistake;” and the FTC’s response to such a mistake would be a more “educational approach” to regulation, helping to make bloggers aware of the seriousness of their conduct in the commercial space.
Almost immediately, bloggers reported Cleland’s comments as a case of the FTC saying one thing and taking it back, behaving more like a software company than a government agency. Of course, the original incident was another case of a story being reported enough times that it was almost true.