Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not a good job for the FTC

According to the Associated Press:

New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the [Federal Trade Commission] can go after bloggers - as well as the companies that compensate them - for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.

Such activity seems out of place for American society. We normally allow wide latitude in speech about products, and because of that we get robust protection against biased claims. While people can claim any number of things I would rather they didn't, it is equally easy for others to rebut those claims. Each individual who cares then holds a personal court to weigh the arguments they have heard. It's a beautiful system in theory, and it seems to have worked well in practice. Societies where speech is monitored for impropriety, in addition to being rather unpleasant, tend to have individuals with worse information. The censors damp down everything, not just the bad information.

Given this rich history, what is the argument for doing things differently for blogs? After such good experience with free speech, why flirt now with gossip police?

My best guess is that the FTC is fighting to expand its scope. Especially if broadcast TV declines, which seems inevitable given its many competitors, the FTC might fear having a number of censors on hire but no content to monitor. That would be bad for the FTC, but it looks good for the public.

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