A few years ago, FTC’s revised online disclosure guidelines were the big thing in the blogosphere. Bloggers were apparently under scrutiny for non-disclosed “material connections” (aka compensation) between a brand and a blogger, with rumors of a $10,000 fine for not complying with the guidelines (apparently, this rumor was false and there was no such fine). In fact, the FTC clarified in those same FAQs that they were not actually monitoring bloggers and had no plans to do so.
Then came the era of visual and video content. Enter Vine and Instagram and Pinterest and it seems that the concept of disclosure just went out the window, even though the FTC guidelines do cover those media as well. YouTubers with millions of viewers review video games and beauty products with no hint of disclosure. Sure, technically the FTC requires it, but I can say that of all the video game reviews my son has watched and the beauty and/or clothing haul videos my mom and daughter have turned me on to, I’ve never once seen any sort of disclosure. Ditto Instagram–witness a recent Nokia campaign that had dozens of influencers posting photos tagged #teamlumia with nary a disclosure among them. Apparently brands on Instagram think that telling influencers they partner with to post a brand hashtag on sponsored photos equals disclosure, but, as this lawyer points out, a marketing hashtag does not equal disclosure. I see tons of products in my Instagram feed, as well as obviously sponsored campaigns, and never see any type of disclosure.
Even though it seems that disclosure is no longer the priority it seemed to be a few years ago, fall the FTC said it was going to be ramping up efforts to crack down on digital disclosure. I find it a little weird that they’d be saying that when the FAQs I linked to above clearly state “We’re not monitoring bloggers and we have no plans to” and “If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been.” Assuming they have no plans to go after bloggers for failing to disclose compensated posts, what incentive is there for bloggers, Instagrammers, YouTubers and other paid online spokespeople to disclose anymore? And what about the IRS–do they care about all this non-disclosed income? Again, it’s apparently on bloggers to report free products, travel and other material connections as income–but if none of those connections are disclosed in the first place, are they really going to report that income?
Let me be clear: I personally have always felt very strongly about disclosure and have always been careful to disclose when I had something to disclose…or even to make clear that I had nothing to disclose, as is usually the case. However, I have definitely found myself wondering if it even matters anymore since non-disclosure seems to be the rule these days.
If you’re a blogger or Instagrammer who receives free products or other compensation, do you disclose? Or do you think it doesn’t matter anymore since non-disclosure is so rampant?