Thursday, October 15, 2009

Clap if you believe in fairies

Ronald Reagan used to say that the scariest words in the language were
I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you.
It was a good line, but I never bought it. What I've been saying for some years now is that the scariest words are actually
Trust us; we won't abuse the power.
There are so many contexts.

There's the PATRIOT Act which was going to protect us from terrorism and nothing but, and we could trust them on that. (Congress had routinely refused to grant the same powers of the years when proposed for law enforcement purposes.) Turns out, it's routinely used for everyday law enforcement. And, of course, the Senate Judiciary Committee just approved renewal - absent civil liberties protections, but that's OK, because we can trust them.

There's that law designed to prohibit crush films that does much more but don't worry, we can trust them. Still Robert Stevens was sentenced to 37 months in prison for selling films showing dog fighting - fights which were perfectly legal where they were filmed.

And here in Ohio, there's the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's specious claim, completely belied by the evidence, that they are more than capable of doing lethal injections properly. The director of the Department, you see, is "fully supportive of the execution team and the current protocols." Trust them.

And so, I'm just not comforted.

If you've been following the news, last week the Federal Trade Commission announced that bloggers who endorse (by which they mean mention positively or negatively, it seems) products they've gotten for free can be fined up to $11,000 per endorsement if they don't mention that they got some remuneration - say the product. I'm not talking paid shills here. I'm talking ordinary bloggers who get, say, a book from a publisher in the hope they'll review it. Apparently that happens with some frequency.

[Not to me, though. In the months I've been doing this not one publisher or author, or Lexus dealer, for that matter, has offered me a free anything - let alone just mailed in books (or luxury sedans) in the hope that I'd write about them. But, honest, if you send them I will write - at least until I'm overwhelmed. Let me be clear. The one book I've reviewed here I'd taken out of the public library - and returned on time.]

Anyway, there was much concern since the rule is self-evidently silly applied to the occasional book review by a blawger and since the rule is also thoroughly ambiguous about just how ostentatious the notice of having gotten a free copy had to be.

Not to worry. They don't mean to use it against blawggers. That reassurance comes from Mary Engle, associate director for advertising practices at the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
"We are not going to be patrolling the blogosphere," she said. "We are not planning on investigating individual bloggers."
Whew. I feel better already. Unfortunately, there's more.
Engle did acknowledge a substantial gray area when it comes to blogging. If a blogger received an occasional free sample and happened to write something positive, she said, “that’s not something we think would change the expectation of the audience,” and might not require disclosure.
I, for one, am comforted that I "might not" have to disclose. Can't get much clearer than that. Oh, but they don't come after people like me.
[S]he said the agency has “never brought a case against an individual consumer endorser.” Nor will the FTC levy fines for violating the guidelines.
So the individual blogger doesn't need to worry. Unless the FTC decides to act differently.

But wait, they're from the government. I can trust them.

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