As a blogger who has never accepted payment to express any opinion, I love it! Great idea! Just one problem: The FTC is using a good rule to solve an almost non-existent problem. When someone is persuaded by what is essentially an "advertorial" in blog post format, they might end up spending money on a product that isn't really worthy. In extreme cases, it's possible that a paid post might persuade a reader to try a dangerous health remedy.
But of all the troubles that plague our troubled society, paid blog posts are way down on the list. Why not use the FTC's rule where it would really do some good? For example:
Whenever politicians advocate legislation or appointments that benefit contributors, they should be required by law to disclose "gifts" and payments during speeches and press releases, and on their official Web sites.
So, for example, when President Obama appoints Roger Beachy, formerly of Monsanto, to head the USDA’s newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture, he should disclose the payments behind that sell-out. And likewise for all the other industrial food interests he's put in charge of America's food supply.
Companies spend vastly larger sums to influence government than they do to influence bloggers. And when politicians take money for services rendered, if affects all of us.
Children's TV product placement
The average American child watches several hours of TV per day. According to a study commissioned by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, American children between the ages of 2 and 7 see an average of 12 food-related ads per day. According to the study, 34% of the ads are for candy and snacks, 28% for breakfast cereals, 10% for fast food, 4% for dairy products, 1% for fruit juices and none for fruits and vegetables.
And that's just the ads. A Michigan State University study found constant references to fast food in children's TV shows – some 2.6 references per hour of programming on children's shows. Many of those references are for the products of advertisers, or represent paid product placement.
During these shows, the FTC should require the actors to stop, address the audience, and explain to children in age-appropriate language that these items are being mentioned because of payments from the companies that make those products. (They should also be forced to disclose to kids that the products mention can lead to cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, as applicable.)
Doctors are being constantly influenced by pharmaceutical companies. In 2007, the pharmaceutical industry spend $22 billion on drug samples, dinners (that include drug sales presentations), hand-outs and other things to influence doctors to prescribe their drugs. They don't do this because they're nice. They do it because they get back more than $22 billion in benefits when doctors are, in fact, influenced.
So the FTC should require doctors who write prescriptions to detail to the patient everything they've gotten from the company that makes the drug they're prescribing. "Pfizer bought my wife and I dinner four times, gave me $6,000 worth of free samples and even the pen I'm using to write this prescription. Just thought you should know."
The FTC's rule that bloggers must disclose payment for opinion or advice is a great one. The only problem with it is that it solves a practically non-existent problem. If applied where it really counts, the FTC might actually improve things. Let's start with the politicians, TV studios and doctors who contribute to the health crisis and skyrocketing healthcare insurance costs by giving bad paid advice.