The FTC should trust in web-ocracy

Jun. 25, 2009 | by Philip Buxton

The Federal Trade Commission wants power over bloggers who fail to declare their commercial interests a move that fails to recognise the ruthlessly democratic nature of content popularity on the web and the ‘connectedness’ of its consumers.

Yes, as a journalist, a failure to disclose a conflict of interest was not just wrong from a legal standpoint but against the very essence of journalism, which, even in the business press, we liked to think was to unearth and fully reveal ‘the truth’.

And, yes, bloggers, in contrast, come from all walks of life and, in many cases, are driven by an imperative far removed from such pompous ideals. Most often, the imperative is commercial, whether to build a profile, increase a site’s SEO ranking, or, even – as a ‘media owner’ and affiliate – drive traffic and sales to advertisers.

And, true, most often – since this is not formal ‘publishing’ – there are no clear boundaries between commercial and editorial, which means that the editorial output can be indistinguishable from a blog’s commercial needs.

But, if anyone was in any doubt, all editorial, save that produced by the BBC and Channel 4 under their public broadcasting mandate, is driven by a commercial imperative.

And one of the impacts of digital media on traditional media businesses has been the steady erosion of the once sturdy Chinese walls between editorial and commercial. Trust me, the pressure to produce advertiser-friendly content has never been higher.

Also, web 2.0 platforms and social media in general, function entirely on the principle that, not only will the cream rise to the top so that ‘real journalism’ becomes most popular (and therefore more commercially successful), but that the implications of being found out in a piece of jiggery pokery are so serious as to far outweigh the benefits (consider Habitat’s recent Twitter-fail).

So, I get paid to blog for iCrossing. I am also – on a consultancy basis – its head of marketing. That might potentially bring up conflicts of interests if a reader were expecting thoroughly independent comment about digital marketing to be appearing on a digital marketing agency’s own website. As it is, I often make reference to this arrangement, just in case.

And, although what the FTC is after is much more understandable – click-trading masquerading as independent review and fraudulent misrepresentation (‘this company is great’) for commercial gain (‘I own a stake in it’) – it should have more confidence in the web-enabled democratic process.

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    Comments (2)

    • FTC misses ‘ruthless democracy’ of online content « Media Quake

      [...] Full post here [...]Jun 26, 2009 10:40 am

    • The FTC should trust in web-ocracy | UK Web Designer

      [...] original here: The FTC should trust in web-ocracy Categories: Business, Web 2.0 Tags: Business, commercial, commission, days, declare-their, [...]Jun 25, 2009 04:13 pm

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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