FTC Calls Out Video Game Reviewers in Proposed Endorsement Rule Changes

Illustration for article titled FTC Calls Out Video Game Reviewers in Proposed Endorsement Rule Changes

The Federal Trade Commission, it seems, has determined that bloggers aren't journalists, or should at least be treated differently.

The commission, in the process of reexamining the disclosure rules for their truth-in-advertising guides, are now calling out bloggers as a potential issue. The commission says it is looking into the legitimacy of blogger opinion and whether access to review product influences their write-ups. They don't, however, seem to be concerned over similar practices in the print and mainstream media.

Instead of relying on specific rules, the FTC's guides use a set of examples to lay out issues that they have identified. In talking about the importance of disclosure of material connections between the endorser and the seller, the guide uses an example aimed directly at online video game journalism:

Example 7: A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or "blog" where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review. The readers of his blog are unlikely to expect that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact would likely materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge.

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While this example is talking about free consoles, what about free games or free movies or free books?

Most newspapers allow their critics to go to free screenings of movies so they can write a movie review. Most newspapers, in my experience, also allow critics to receive game code in one form or another and even retain loaner consoles so they can review games. Certainly every major gaming website, from GameSpot to IGN take free copies of games for review.

What's troubling about this FTC example isn't the expectation that the blogger should disclose that they received a free console, but that the rule seems to single out bloggers.

In seeking to delineate between a professional writer and a blogger, the FTC approaches a slippery slope that could very easily end with the government deciding who is and who isn't a journalist.

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Equally troubling is the coverage of this issue by the New York Times, which seems to almost deliberately not get it. In a Sunday story entitled "When a Blogger Voices Approval, a Sponsor May Be Lurking", the New York Times reports on the issue making it clear that unlike journalists, some bloggers are for sale:

"But unlike postings in most journalism outlets or independent review sites, most companies can be assured that there will not be a negative review: if she does not like a product, she simply does not post anything about it."

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I do like some of the ideas spelled out in the document, in particular the notion of advertising and marketing folks not being allowed to flood a message board with false praise for their product without identifying themselves. But who is going to differentiate between "most journalism outlets" and "independent review sites" and bloggers? And how will they do so?

When the government gets in the business of identifying journalists and setting up a separate set of rules for those that don't make the cut, it's more than a little troubling.

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DISCUSSION

Laughable.

If something, tons of "traditional media" readers switched to blogs exactly because they were tired of reading biased newspaper and print articles.

I say the general idea isn't bad, but that this should affect bloggers, journalists and all types of media alike.

I'm currently studying journalism, and quite frankly, I'm f*cking tired of the prejudice bloggers and blogs are treated even by our own professors.

It's a whole generation of old journalists and old journalism professors who seems to ignore that there are tons of quality blogs out there who respect the ethics and principles of journalism far more than tons of traditional media counterparts.

And this has more to do with their own reluctance to learn new stuff, to try to deal with Internet content, to leave their own confort zone and search for quality content in other means, than with the qualification of bloggers.

I'm also noticing that tons of great journalists, the ones that truly deserves their titles, already became bloggers, and already understood that blogging isn't just something teenagers with lots of free time do to tell friends what he/she had for lunch and stuff like that.

Unfortunately, they are exceptions. Most journalists nowadays are just like factory workers, doing mechanized work, rewriting and formatting stuff they receive from daily fixed sources.