Monday, October 12, 2009

The Fraud of Blogger "Guidelines"

Last week the Federal Trade Commission released "guidelines" requiring bloggers to disclose "material connections" (payments or free products) to advertisers for products reviewed or testimonials given. The alleged purpose of these "guidelines"--which can result in a fine of $11,000 per "offending" post--is to protect consumers.

Presumably, these "guidelines" fall under the purvey of "truth in advertising", which holds that advertising may not be deceptive or misleading. While I would agree that advertisers should not engage in fraud, this is not the purpose of the new FTC guidelines. And more significantly, it fails to address the true fraud being perpetuated on the American people.

Fraud is an intentional misrepresentation of the facts for the purpose of influencing a person's actions. Fraud is intended to convince a person to act differently than he would if he had all of the facts.

And what do the "guidelines" offer in terms of "guidance"? Not much:

The Commission will, of course, consider each use of these new media on a case-by-
case basis for purposes of law enforcement, as it does with all advertising.

The Commission does not believe that all uses of new consumer-generated media to
discuss product attributes or consumer experiences should be deemed “endorsements” within the meaning of the Guides. Rather, in analyzing statements made via these new media, the fundamental question is whether, viewed objectively, the relationship between the advertiser and the speaker is such that the speaker’s statement can be considered “sponsored” by the advertiser and therefore an “advertising message.” In other words, in disseminating positive statements about a product or service, is the speaker: (1) acting solely independently, in which case there is no endorsement, or (2) acting on behalf of the advertiser or its agent, such that the speaker’s statement is an “endorsement” that is part of an overall marketing campaign? The facts and circumstances that will determine the answer to this question are extremely varied and cannot be fully enumerated here... [pages 8- 9, emphasis added]

The FTC claims that it will view a post "objectively", yet it cannot state what criteria it will use. How then is a writer to know if his post is an "advertising message" or not? The fact is, he can't know until the FTC comes knocking on his door.

Such arbitrary "guidelines" will not protect anyone. They will however, accomplish the unstated purpose of paralyzing writers with uncertainty and fear. As Diana Hsieh writes:

The inevitable result will be that many honest bloggers will stop discussing products entirely -- or they'll stop blogging. Seriously, how many bloggers make enough money to cover the potential fines? How many bloggers will have the time and the fortitude to read through all the regulations, to know whether they're complying or not with them? Many other people will not start a blog; it would be too much trouble -- and too risky.

The FTC is peddling these "guidelines" as consumer protection, when in fact the true purpose is to stifle the free exchange of ideas. If this strikes you as manipulative and misleading, you would be correct. The FTC--the agency charged with "protecting" consumers from fraudulent advertising--is perpetuating a fraud. If advertisers and bloggers must disclose all relevant facts, shouldn't the FTC be subject to the same "guidelines"?

And what of politicians who ply American voters with promises of unearned rewards in exchange for votes? What of those who claim that massive government programs can be enacted with no ill affects? What of politicians who renege on campaign promises? What of politicians who claim impartiality while accepting campaign donations from organizations seeking to influence legislation? Or those who first point a gun at businessmen to mandate their behavior and then point a finger at "greedy" businessmen in blame when the politician's schemes fall apart? Or those who preach "family values" while engaging in sordid behavior? Aren't these claims and promises fraudulent? Aren't these intentional misrepresentations of the facts for the purpose of influencing the actions of voters?

The fact that politicians and government bureaucrats are not held to the same standards as ordinary citizens speaks volumes. They try to "sell" the public on certain ideas while misrepresenting their own actions, beliefs, and intentions. If it is wrong for advertisers to misrepresent their products, why is acceptable for government officials to do so? The answer to that question reveals one of the greatest frauds of all.

Government officials allegedly act with the "public interest" in mind. Unlike businessmen who act for their own selfish interests, government officials allegedly act with the interests of others in mind. And since altruism--service to others--is the accepted standard of morality, the selfless actions of politicians and bureaucrats are covered with a veneer of moral rectitude while the actions of businessmen are tainted.

Obama has called upon all Americans to sacrifice. He has implored us to serve others. Why? Why should we serve others, rather than serve ourselves? Obama, and indeed nobody, has provided an answer to that question. And if Americans are busy serving one another, who is to benefit from this orgy of sacrifice? For a start, you might consider Harry Reid, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, Al Gore, and Obama.

We are supposed to believe that if we all sacrifice, we will all somehow be better off. Do you think that you would be better off if you burned a $100 bill, or let the food in your freezer spoil, or gave your car to the bum on the corner? For most people these actions would be a sacrifice. How would this make your life better?

One of the greatest frauds in history is the idea that morality consists of service to others, that you must place the welfare and interests of others before your own, that you have no right to exist for your own sake. So long as you accept that premise, there will be a steady stream of Franks, Dodds, and Pelosis eager to direct your service to do their bidding. They will cajole you with guilt, and if that doesn't work they will prod you with a club. They take altruism seriously, and they will demand that you do as well.

If you value your life, you must reject altruism. You must assert your right to your own precious life. You must proclaim that you have a right to your own happiness. Until you do that, you will continue to be a victim of your own mistaken ideas. And that is what the FTC is counting on.

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