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Disclosure Now Required on Blogs, Twitter, and Other Social Media Sites

blogging newsWith the news that the UK is cracking down on those blogging and tweeting for pay without disclosure, and California law making online impersonation potentially illegal, social media and blogging are taking a hit.

In summary, if you pretend to be someone you aren’t, famous or not, or blog about a product or service for compensation without disclosure, your account could be shut down or you could be fined, possibly arrested.

If you now or plan on making an income on blogging for money and/or creating a parody site, you need to understand the new rules and regulations to prevent defamation, fraud, and penalties. Let’s look at the two aspects of the new laws, then I offer tips to help you maneuver the new social web land mines.

Full Disclosure is Part of Transparency

In the early days of the social media revolution, transparency was the keyword. You were who you said you were, were open and honest about yourself and your business, that was enough. It was good. It worked. It was simple. Tell the truth.

Trust. We thrived on honoring the word and full definition of trust.

When pay-per-post began to make news, the issue was met with disdain as many saw it as a path to get-rich-quick, blogging and tweeting about things they never used and getting paid for it. The outrage was because suddenly the illusion of trust was broken.

Eventully, honest bloggers added disclosure statements on their sites or stopped using such services. Pay-per-post seemed to drift into the ghetto world of blogging, only for those living on the edge, not those with integrity. Now, rulings by the US Federal Trade Commission and UK Office of Fair Trade that says pay-per-post and pay-per-tweets could cost you unless you conform.

This illusion of trust and honesty also applies to impersonation. So much so, Twitter features “verified” accounts to prove the person behind the tweets is authentic.

While everyone loves a good parody, Steve Jobs and Apple have been after the fake @ceostevejobs for ages for his snarky wit and impersonation of the real Steve Jobs. BP Public Relations (@bpglobalpr) spoof Twitter account brought a good sense of humor and truth to a horrible situation as BP Oil spilled across the Gulf Coast of the United States and Mexico. So far, reports are that no one is going after the BP Oil spoof site, but the new California ruling makes it possible for Apple to shut down the fake Steve Jobs Twitter account if he doesn’t comply with the rules.

In my WordCast article on this case, I listed many Twitter accounts used for impersonation and parody that are not in compliance with Twitter’s Impersonation Policy, which probably means that the celebs or owners of the trademarked names and characters haven’t requested compliance yet.

These cases do not apply only to the rich and famous. If it is you whose being misrepresented, you might be glad of such laws.

With the growing body of law dealing with defamation and fraud on the web, especially when it comes to disclosure, maybe it’s time to apply these laws to spammers, not just famous people or impersonators.

According to the new rules in the UK, it isn’t just blogs and microblogs facing crackdowns but “comments about services and products on blogs and microblogs such as Twitter.” That sounds like spam tweets and blog comments to me.

Services such as exist because of the need to clean up the comment spam on our sites before we see it. We participate in the community project that Akismet is to mark spam as spam, so the program learns and prevents new types of spam from clogging up our blogs and wasting our time.

WordPress is free. Most WordPress Plugins and Themes are free. There are paid Plugins and Themes available, but many of us are tired of seeing ads stream through our social lifestreams, including commercial promos and pay-per-tweet for WordPress Themes, Plugins, and commerical WordPress products and services. Not all of these are legitimate. Some have been found to link to malware and suspicious sites unrelated to anything WordPress. After too many unfortunate encounters with such links, I’ve learned to no longer trust them unless they come from trustworthy sources.

Could these laws be applied to these as well? Maybe it’s time that the laws started benefitting all of us. The social web could do with a little house cleaning to rid us of the growing spam found all over the web.

Tips for Disclosure and Impersonation

Remember, the truth is your best transparency plan, however, if you go forward with your plans to monetize your online publishing content or decide to impersonate someone or misrepresent a company, here are some tips that might help.

Tips for Full-Disclosure on Monetization

If you’ve created an online identity with the intention and purpose of making money with published content, you must have full disclosure.

  • All published content, including tweets, must have “ad” or “spon” or some written phrase or graphic image to denote sponsored paid-for-content as distinctly different from “free” content.
  • All blogs and microblogs must feature a statement of full-disclosure that some or all of the published content has been sponsored or paid-to-publish.
  • Such endorsements must be truthful and not misleading.
  • You must keep (and provide upon request) proof that you used the product or service before endorsing it.

For tips on writing disclosures, see:

Online Impersonation and Parody

If you impersonate someone online, whether for parody or nefarious puproses, it must be obvious that you are NOT whom you claim to be to avoid penalities. In general, the laws still protect anonymous bloggers and publishers, as long as they are not abusing another’s identity.

Many of us want the innocent years of the web back. It’s not coming back, but if we all play by the same rules and treat each other with respect, these rules wouldn’t be necessary. Trust your fans, and let them trust you, and they will give back volumes.


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

11 Comments

  1. Posted January 11, 2011 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this very informative post. I’m glad that I have subscribed to your feed because I got to read latest information and tips on online writing and blogging. Requiring disclosure is one great move to rid the web with spammers and “scammers”. As long as the new disclosure law is directed towards making the blogoshpere a wonderful virtual world to interact and relate, I am putting my two thumbs up. Again, thanks to you Lorelle for always updating us.

  2. Posted January 11, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Nice article Lorelle and timely reminder. Here’s an in-depth overview provided by one of my portfolio companies when the FTC guidelines were announced: FTC Compliance Made Easy Clear standards help everyone comply and play by the same rules.

  3. Cindi
    Posted January 11, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for simplifying down the complicated.

  4. Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I’ve had a few twitter accounts pulled on those issues. I remember back in 2003 when blogging was just something for fun and it wasn’t nearly as popular…now it’s a potential crime…oh how times have changed ;)

  5. Ajith Edassery
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    A very important topic. In fact, there are a number of monetized content out there that do not put any kind of factual information as against their claims – be it affiliate marketing, paid reviews or ads. Your blog disclaimer tips were awesome. Though I am yet to have a dedicated disclaimer page, if at all I write any sponsored content, I do mention that there.

  6. Francesca
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    I’ve always been in favor of disclosure when you blog about a product or service for compensation. I’m fine with someone blogging about a product or service for compensation (especially if money comes from those producing/providing that same product/service), but I see it as a form of advertising where pros are highlighted rather than cons, while it is less likely the case when someone is blogging about a product or service without getting paid to do so.

  7. thecitruslens
    Posted January 15, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    generally i think these things start off wioth good intentions, helping protect the authentic person form the impersonator, but without carefull oversight they can become nefarious to censor

  8. Posted January 21, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    “It’s not coming back” – ain’t that the truth. I appreciate this post of clarification. Sometimes the line is not clear when you “monetize” your blog, even though not stepping into the pay for tweet or pay for post industry. I’ve never done any, but I still have had a disclaimer and a privacy page for my sites because I have monetized since paying for my hosting and themes,etc.

    I’m going to check what I have against what you’ve written, thanks.

    Blogging has changed so much since the early days.

  9. kd
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle, I’m a new reader of your blog. And thanks for making your experience and expertise available. I probably haven’t been using the right keywords to search on your blog, but I’ve been trying to locate tips on how to link to another blog or page from the navigation menu w/out shifting the sizing or position of the menu item.

    • Posted January 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      I don’t understand. You want to put a link to another blog in your navigation menu? That’s odd. Either way, it’s a CSS thing. Just add it manually to wherever your Theme’s template files showcase the navigation menu and style with CSS to make it fit.

  10. Mythic Tech
    Posted March 5, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    think it’s good they are cracking down on impersonation but once again governments cannot meet in the middle they go from extreme left to extreme right. They cannot ever have just something in the middle where if someone is clearly just doing it for fun and not trying to hurt someone leave them alone, the ones they should go after are the ones doing damage.

    Trevor Seabrook


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