Mark’s recent undisclosed use of an affiliate link in his VPN post caught me off guard. A quick check of other BB posts seems to confirm this is the rule, not the exception. Affiliate links make recommendation posts into paid endorsements, which, per FTC Guidelines, require “clear and conspicuous” disclosure in close proximity to the triggering issue. Boing Boing seems to avoid such disclosures as a matter of style and policy. Why?
Mark updated his VPN post noting that there is a disclosure at the bottom of the page. It’s a nonspecific, global disclosure, beneath the “READ MORE AT BOING BOING” thumbnails, in the black background of the page template:
[quote=“BB Fine Print”]
The FTC’s FAQ on it’s endorsement guidelines puts BB’s affiliate links into perspective:
[quote=“FTC Endorsement Guidelines FAQ”]Isn’t it common knowledge that some bloggers are paid to tout products or that if you click a link on my site to buy a product, I’ll get a commission for that sale?
First, many bloggers who mention products don’t receive anything for their reviews and don’t get a commission if readers click on a link to buy a product. Second, the financial arrangements between some bloggers and advertisers may be apparent to industry insiders, but not to everyone else who reads a blog. Under the law, an act or practice is deceptive if it misleads “a significant minority” of consumers. So even if some readers are aware of these deals, many readers aren’t. That’s why disclosure is important…
Do the Guides hold online reviewers to a higher standard than reviewers for paper-and-ink publications?
No. The Guides apply across the board. The issue is – and always has been – whether the audience understands the reviewer’s relationship to the company whose products are being reviewed. If the audience gets the relationship, a disclosure isn’t needed. For a review in a newspaper, on TV, or on a website with similar content, it’s usually clear to the audience that the reviewer didn’t buy the product being reviewed. It’s the reviewer’s job to write his or her opinion and no one thinks they bought the product – for example, a book or movie ticket – themselves. But on a personal blog, a social networking page, or in similar media, the reader may not expect the reviewer to have a relationship with the company whose products are mentioned. Disclosure of that relationship helps readers decide how much weight to give the review. [/quote]
I feel I was misled. The affiliate link was not specifically disclosed. I didn’t realize the link was an affiliate link. I did not see the global “disclosure” at the bottom of the page template - a disclosure which is about specific and as helpful as the ubiquitous California prop 65 warnings that say “This facility contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer” and tell you nothing nothing of any actual use.
I do not begrudge BB the right to make money from honest, paid endorsements via affiliate links, it just seems like they should be marked as such at the top of the post, at the very least, at the link. For example, “(affiliate link)” or “(paid link),” since not everyone knows what an “affiliate link” is. Or a “Paid Endorsement” tag at the top of the post.
To me, BB has often been about “openness good, sneakiness bad,” whether referring to the actions of media, government, business or individuals. So, the lack of clear and conspicuous disclosure about paid endorsements strikes me as a bit odd for BB. Even anonymous reviewers manage to write “Received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review” at the top of their review, in line with the FTC paid endorsement guidelines. It would be truly odd if a savvy organization like BB were unable, or unwilling, to be as clear about paid endorsements as someone who got a free ARC in exchange for a book review on Amazon.