Blogging is one of the hallmarks of the digital age. As a function of free speech, bloggers are able to express any opinion regardless of how it may be received. At the same time, blogging represents a difficult area for government regulation regarding advertising, as the source of funding for bloggers may bias their opinions. Our company blog covers many topics like this, and others that may be worth a read!
Ramifications of recent blogging legislature
Recent governmental legislation regarding blogging in respects to false advertising present a number of various aspects of concern for public relations departments, individual bloggers, and the general public at large. The purpose of this sample essay from Ultius is to discuss legislation to protect the interests of the public by requiring bloggers to reveal the nature of their relationship with companies for which bloggers review products, since oftentimes bloggers are paid or receive substantial incentives to provide auspicious reviews of products and services of companies. However, such legislation also raises a substantial number of questions as to its ramifications for the right of freedom of speech for bloggers and its impact on the public relations considerations of the firms that hired them. A thorough analysis of these points reveals that for bloggers, the relevant legal principle is whether or not these regulations impinge their rights to free speech, while for public relations departments this legislation directly relates to corporate social responsibility.
Freedom of expression
However, when concentrating on the perspective of bloggers trying to earn legitimate money by writing for a living—which is never easy in any society—their ability to express their opinions is a critical component. The stringency of the aforementioned laws has the potential to circumscribe the viewpoint expressed by writers to avoid being accused of false advertising. As such, writers who compose favorable reviews of products may be targeted for investigations into charges of false advertising. Nonetheless, a general explication of the requirements of recent legislation related to blogging reveals that such an occurrence is unlikely.
Bloggers simply must reveal whether or not they are an employee of the company they are writing for or if they are receiving any form of compensation—whether in terms of free products or on a conventional monetary basis. As long as bloggers comply with these mandates, then they are allowed to write whatsoever they please about the product. In this respect, compliance with these laws is not at variance with basic notions of free speech as outlined by the First Amendment of the US Constituion. These laws are simply requiring bloggers to reveal to the general public whether or not they have any ulterior motives in composing their reviews. As such, there should be no stifling of social media as a viable form of advertising or as verifiable means of accessing information about various products and services. Bloggers still have full access to their rights of free speech; they simply have to reveal the nature of their relationship to the company producing the product while exercising this Constitutional right.
The only way in which these new regulations could negatively impact social media as a positive platform for product reviews and an effective means of advertising is if consumers (and in this case readers of blogs who are effectively persuaded to purchase relevant products and services) discredit the opinion of bloggers due to the nature of their relationship to a company. However, some fairly fundamental principles of strategic public relations indicate that such discrediting will more than likely not occur. In fact, if one considers the notion of corporate social responsibility, it appears as though both the credibility of the company and the blogger will be enhanced by truthfully revealing the full nature of the relationship between the two.
Corporate social responsibility
Corporate social responsibility is largely comprised of three crucial components: respect, relationship, and responsive rectitude (Heath & Ni). Revealing the nature of the relationship of product reviewers to the company that is utilizing them for the purposes of advertising is a tangible means of adhering to all three of these components on the part of a particular business entity. It is ensuring its responsibility to the public by facilitating a positive relationship with it based on a responsive rectitude to the litigation that has been passed. Most importantly, doing so will significantly enhance its reputation with the general public as being an organization that is forthright. The following quotation alludes to this fact.
One of the assumptions used by advocates for corporate social responsibility is that organizations with better reputations enjoy competitive advantage over those with lower or inadequate reputations. This stronger reputation can lead to profits and defend the organization in times of crisis and during public policy issue battles. (Heath &Ni)
Blogging legislation and corporate respect
This quotation suggests that the general public will respect a company that embraces corporate social responsibility. One such means of doing so is to require bloggers to adhere to the recently passed legislation designed to limit false advertising. From this perspective, it appears that these regulations will not only benefit the public by making them more aware of relationships between bloggers and companies, but also benefit organizations by having them earn the public’s trust and respect.
It is also important to note that these two ramifications of these regulations actually do not impinge upon the First Amendment rights of bloggers in any way. There are five components of false advertising under section 43 (a) of the Lanham Act. Defendants must make misleading statements about an advertisement that leads to purchasing decisions based on an intent to deceive (“False Advertising”). By simply including a disclaimer that discloses the nature of the relationship between a blogger and the company he or she is writing for, as well as indicating whether or not such an individual is receiving compensation from the organization, bloggers are actually protecting themselves (and their organizations) from false advertising. This protection comes in the form of ensuring that there is no deception involved in the blogger’s writing, since he or she is forthright about the nature of the relationship with the company. Therefore, bloggers, public relations departments of companies, and the general public all benefit from this legislation–and bloggers can still write what they please.
Heath, Robert and Ni, Lan. “Corporate Social Responsibility: Reputation, Relationship, and Responsive Rectitude”. Institute for Public Relations. 2009. Web. http://www.instituteforpr.org/topics/corporate-social-responsibility-three-rs/
“False Advertising”. Cornell University Law School. No date. Web. http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/false_advertising