Regulating Bloggers?

Disclaimer: I certify that I have received no financial renumeration, goods, or services for the content of this post.

I know you’re all shocked that the superPacs have yet to contact me, but under a proposal before the California Fair Political Practices Commission, bloggers expressing political opinions might have to insert such a disclaimer.  Last Thursday, FPPC chairwoman, Ann Ravel, announced plans to make such disclosure “suggested” for this November’s elections, and mandatory thereafter.  http://tinyurl.com/773olq2

This stirs up many questions, the first and foremost being, why?  Why focus on bloggers when we all know victory in this election will cost hundreds of millions of SuperPac dollars?  For attack adds on TV, not a few hundred blog posts.

The current FCC push to force TV stations to post the sponsors of political adds is news.  A district court decision to allow superPacs to solicit political add time on PBS stations is news.  The fact that bloggers post their opinions is not.

I believe some politicians cannot abide a medium that is beyond their control, and political blogging is a macguffin as defined in Neal Gabler’s marvelous book, Life, the Movie (look under Book Reviews here for more info). Gabler writes:

“It was with Kennedy in mind that Norman Mailer in 1960 prophesied that ‘America’s politics would now be also America’s favorite movie’…Candidates were the putative stars, the primaries open costing calls, the campaign was an audition, and the election itself the selection of the lead, while the handlers served as drama coaches, scriptwriters, and directors.  As for substantive issues, though they couldn’t be purged entirely, they largely became what film director Alfred Hitchcock…once called macguffins-that is, they were the excuse for setting the whole process in motion though they have virtually no intrinsic value.”

That helps me understand why Ms Ravel would float such a silly proposal.  How would the California FPPC try to regulate bloggers living out of state?  How much money would I have to rake in to be required to disclose?  Five dollars?  Fifty?  Five-hundred (I wish)?  Will twitter or Facebook users have to disclose as well?  What about book reviews?  Will I have to disclose which publishers are buying my pearls of wisdom?  What about lucrative Hollywood kickbacks for my movie reviews?

I think this proposal is a bluff intended to float the notion that bloggers need to be regulated, a move toward the slippery slope of controlling what we can and cannot say.  This being America, the pols still have to tie such actions to some concept of “fairness,” although here it’s pretty thin.  To go after bloggers who might somehow make a buck when Citizens United rules the day is like meeting a Martian invasion with mosquito spray.

But now it’s time for a quick commercial break:

Come on, SuperPacs, make me an offer!  Show me the money!  This space for sale!  Get it while you can!  Bargain prices!  Show me the money!  Will write for loot.  Everyone has their price.  Show me the money!  Did I say that already?  Try me out!

Call me….

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7 Responses to Regulating Bloggers?

  1. I hate to say it but there is already a precedent for FCC regulation of this kind. A few years back rules were passed requiring amateur bloggers (like me) to disclose financial incentives in any post that involves a review or endorsement of a product. I’m not generally informed on how this all turned out, except to say that most book review bloggers (including me) now will explicitly state/disclose if the book we are reviewing was given to us for free. Which, of course, is pretty standard when an author or publisher requests a review.
    I agree with you, Morgan, that the principle is sound (money buys endorsements, whether product reviews or politics, and disclosure matters) but the implementation is flawed when you consider the amount of money involved. Mandatory disclosure of a $3 ebook? Is that really necessary?

    Related article on FTC blogger rules:
    http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/10/ftc-bloggers/

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    • That’s interesting, and something I knew nothing about, since the date on that ruling, 2009, was prior to starting this blog. I’ve never noticed any fine print on book reviewer sites – selective text filtering I guess.

      Someone at the FTC in 2009 clearly had too much time on their hands. Also, the logic that simply getting paid makes you a trustworthy source escapes me – I’m old enough to remember the payola scandals on rock radio stations – no amateurs were involved.

      I think “macguffin” is going to become one of my favorite words.

      Like

  2. Adam says:

    The idea of regulating political bloggers does start a slippery slope towards other things. Should I include a disclaimer on my blog saying that I’m not being paid for my book reviews?

    I’ve never been asked by a writer or publisher to review a book, I generally just read whatever I feel like and talk about it afterwards. If an independently published writer asked me to review their book, I’d probably consider it, and if I did review it I’d probably write that I was asked to review the book. (I put some disclaimers on some of the reviews that I’ve done anyway. For example, I’m a huge Brandon Sanderson fan and I’ve said on multiple reviews of his books that my review will be biased by that fact.)

    Anytime I look at a blog I’m assuming that it’s the bloggers opinion (if I want news, I’d go to CNN.com or another big news website). If they make a valid point, I’ll take it into consideration. If they’re rambling and make no effort to back up what they’re saying either with facts or a reasonable argument, I’ll ignore it. I don’t particularly care if a blogger makes money off their blog, if their content is crap I won’t be back to their blog again. If they can pose a thoughtful argument (even if it’s one I disagree with) I’m more likely to visit again.

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    • If you haven’t already, you can follow the link in Amy’s comment to review the law as it stands. My understanding is you’ve never received any recompense at all from your reviews so you have nothing to declare. In addition, making your biases known is a very “professional” act, whether you are ever paid or not. And as you say, the first time I read a glowing review of a really bad book is the last time I’ll visit that blog.

      I’ve posted reviews of three independent ebook authors at their request, and said as much during the posts. I always assumed in such situations a complementary copy is implied in such requests, but to keep things above board, I’ll declare it now:

      Assuming 10 hours to read and write a review of a book with a retail price of $1.99 on Smashwords. Round up and I’m making $0.20 an hour. Not quite enough to sway my opinion…

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  3. JT says:

    Laughing out loud Morgan, macguffin is a great word, ( Thank you Alfred) If we need a disclaimer for our opinions I say how about a disclaimer for the news makers and their personal biases! If only they would report “just the facts Ma’am” … Good Grief!

    Like

  4. JT says:

    Please forgive the typo’s 🙂

    Like

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