Having been around for a while in the blogsophere, I thought that nothing would surprise me, until I came across an article about the FTC wanting to regulate bloggers for reviews they write. The shock is in the seemingly-dubious data about how some reviews can run up to thousands of dollars in compensation for a short, 200-word post. James Joyner is skeptical of the data, and comments further, from a libertarian perspective on how this can affect free speech for bloggers. We who tend to write political commentary (though, I, personally, have shied away from it) are very wary of any government attempt to circumvent our right to free expression. Aaron Brazell replies in the comments to Joyner’s post that there is a community of these so-called mommybloggers, and apparently among them there is an epidemic of paid endorsements that lack clear and proper disclosures. To which I say: these hags are really ruining the field for a lot of people.
Over the years I’ve reviewed different things on this site. Most notably, I’ve written about albums and books. I’ve always included a simple line at the end of each post when applicable: “I have received a free review copy of this [album/book].” It seems that these days, that isn’t enough.
Even with the simple receipt of a free review copy, questions can remain about a reviewer’s integrity. I, for example, have a shelf full of books because I prefer to keep the materials I have reviewed. No one has accused me of whoring out reviews to stuff my bookshelf, but it is possible that someone can. Few reviewers can maintain objectivity in the face of freebies. It is incumbent on both parties to make clear that the material is not provided in exchange for a favorable review. It is provided for a review, and even then, the better reviewers know that not reviewing something at all is in better form over posting a negative review. Take, for example, what has gone on with the “mommyblogging” community.
Online publishing has become a very fulfilling hobby of mine. I’ve met awesome people, made friends with a few of them, and have expanded my perspectives thanks to them. Any reviews on this site are not in exchange for freebies; my opinions are not for sale. It’s unfortunate that those who do sell their opinions don’t readily identify themselves as doing so. The FTC may think this is fraudulent from a legal standpoint, but from an ethical perspective, among us who write, disclosures are the only things that prevent us from being paid shills for anyone. Money has its effects; making it clear for our readers when we get paid to write something—especially when that payment affects what we write—increases, not diminishes, our legitimacy and credibility.
I’ll be creating a separate disclosure page, to be included in my navigation links below the site title. It’ll be simple, but straightforward. Nutshell? My opinions are not for sale. My reviews are not for sale. I keep any and all review copies of anything that I write about unless it’s been agreed that I get rid of them. And yes, from hereon, if I review something, even if it’s something I own, I’ll let y’all know where it came from.