With 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 Akismet 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.
- If you own or are creating a parody account, the profile and account names must include words that clearly imply you are not the real person. The name must use words such as NOT or FAKE or something that clarifies that you are not purposefully falsifying the account or misrepresenting yourself.
- If you are a celebrity or famous person, have Twitter or your publishing services verify the account as authentic, to protect your namesake account and tell potential friends and followers that this is a legitimate account for you.
- If you are running a fan blog or fan site, you must have a disclaimer that clearly states the site is not authorized or is unofficial so visitors will know this is not the official site of the celebrity.
- Such sites and accounts must feature a disclaimer, similar to the Disclaimer on The No Fact Zone, the number one fan-site on Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report show, which states:
NoFactZone.net is an interactive fan-based endeavors and is not the official website/s of Stephen Colbert. These sites are not officially affiliated with or endorsed by Stephen Colbert, “The Colbert Report” television show, Comedy Central, or Viacom Media.
- Know your policies and terms of service for each of the social web services you use regarding impersonation, parody, and misrepresentation:
- Ning Terms of Service
- Yahoo! Terms of Service
- Twitter Impersonation Policy
- Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
- Gmail, Google Chat, Google Docs, etc. Impersonation Policy
- YouTube Impersonation Policy
- LinkedIn User Agreement
- Myspace Terms and Conditions
- reddit.com: help
- Skype Etiquette
- StumbleUpon Terms of Service
- Tumblr – Terms of Service
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.