I recently ran across an article in the Financial Times, a London based newspaper. The article was titled Advertisers brace for online viral marketing curbs. Here’s a quote:
“Revised guidelines on endorsements and testimonials by the Federal Trade Commission, now under review and expected to be adopted, would hold companies liable for untruthful statements made by bloggers and users of social networking sites who receive samples of their products. The guidelines would also hold bloggers liable for the statements they make about products. The blogger could be sued for making false representations. “
This could have a chilling effect on everything from Twitter to StumbleUpon to any other social media. Why? Mistakenly claim that a product re-grew hair and you’re potentially liable. Mistakenly claim that a software product will help someone get control of their finances and voila, you’re now liable. “That sunscreen protected me for 12 hours!” is now off limits!
The main target of the new guidelines appears to be the widespread practice of viral marketing in which companies recruit non- employees to talk up products in exchange for samples or promotions. “The guides needed to be updated to address not only the changes in technology, but also the consequences of new marketing practices,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director for the FTC’s division of advertising practices. “Word-of-mouth marketing is not exempt from the laws of truthful advertising.”
So, word of mouth marketing is now subject to the laws of truthful advertising? Wow. Comments like these would seem to indicate that this is more than just being interested in truthful advertising. Word-of-mouth? Geez.
I’ll be really careful about recommending a restaurant, talking around the water cooler about a book I read, and giving my opinion about sunscreen. Here are some legal options if you Twitter, blog, or post your opinion on the Internet:
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What do I think will happen?
This legislation will probably pass, but it will be incredibly hard to enforce. That doesn’t mean that some aggressive lawyers won’t give it their best shot, though. Go ahead and take the steps to protect yourself now.