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FTC Updating Consumer Info Regarding Media Endorsements, YouTubers In 2015

One of the big fallouts from earlier in the year went by the name of “XB1M13”. It was a Machinima and Microsoft campaign that caught a lot of flak when people found out that YouTubers didn't disclose their ties to the company while being paid to promote it. Recently there's been a consumer revolt regarding a lack of transparency and disclosure in the media, and it's been brought to the attention of the FTC to make it clearer when the lines have been crossed between editorials and advertorials.

Originally, back in September, a division of the FTC had been working on what was dubbed “Operation Full Disclosure” to deal with television and print media disclosure, after consumers complained about media's lack of making those ties clear. This was recently exemplified when employees of the ad agency Deutsch LA made promotional remarks about the PlayStation Vita without revealing that they worked with Sony at Deutsch LA to promote the PS Vita, without revealing their connections to the company. This resulted in Sony having to settle with the FTC charges, offering $25 and $50 merchandise vouchers to those purchased a PS Vita before June 1st, 2012, as noted in a recent FTC press release.

As for the YouTubers and media sites endorsing companies or products without disclosure – consumers have been contacting the FTC regarding Gawker and other sites about their lack of transparency between native advertising, endorsements, advertorials and their standard news content. The FTC did respond to one concerned consumer who shared an e-mail with us regarding the FTC addressing these issues, stating...

“My staff is currently working on creating updated guidance to address the very issues you raise, as well as similar issues we have been getting questions about, such as reviews of video games on YouTube (where the reviewer got the game for free), and the need to disclose if you are endorsing a product as part of a contest. In addition, I don’t think extending Operation Full Disclosure is the right model.”

Following an article on The Ralph Retort, I reached out to the division handling Operation Full Disclosure to ask if the FTC would be expanding on their enforcement of the guidelines or if the guidelines themselves would be amended following the concerns of consumers during a certain revolt, however I was told that enforcement would not be changing. For the sake of avoiding e-mail or phone brigading, I was informed not to include names and contact info, but I was told the following...

“2009, the FTC updated those Guides (which hadn’t been revised since 1980), to make them current.”“Shortly after we revised the Guides, we also posted some consumer and business education materials to provide further guidance, including FAQs (which we called “What People Are Asking”). We are currently planning to update these FAQs to address endorsement issues we’re seeing in the marketplace and getting questions about, such as YouTubers.”

I was informed that there won't be any new laws or enforcement regulations, but it will be easier for consumers to identify when media sites or YouTubers are failing to disclose advertisement and endorsement ties, similar to what happened with XB1M13, the recent Shadow of Mordor incident, and EA's campaigns for Battlefield 4 and Need for Speed. Score a win for those fighting for disclosure and transparency in ethical media journalism.

Will Usher

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.