IAB to FTC: Your New Regulations Could “Muzzle” Speech

By Matt Van Hoven 

Yesterday, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) published an open letter to the Federal Trade Commission regarding celebrity and Web product endorsements.

The letter, which can be read in full here, is among the first from an advertising group to take such a strong stance against the guidelines (which are not law), calling for the FTC to rescind them, an referring to them as “constitutionally dubious.”


Randall Rothenberg, the President and CEO of the IAB: “What concerns us the most in these revisions is that the Internet, the cheapest, most widely accessible communications medium ever invented, would have less freedom than other media,” said Mr. Rothenberg, “These revisions are punitive to the online world and unfairly distinquish between the same speech, based on the medium in which it is delivered. The practices have long been afforded strong First Amendment protections in traditional media outlets, but the Commission is saying that the same speech deserves fewer Constitutional protections online. I urge the Commission to retract the current set of Guides and to commence a fair and open process in order to develop a roadmap by which responsible online actors can engage with consumers and continue to provide the invaluable content and services that have so transformed people’s lives.”

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association took the opposite stance, applauding the FTC for its revisions, noting that the FTC took WOMMA’s guidance regarding key transparency issues.

“Several fundamental principles of WOMMA’s Ethics Code, such as the importance of transparency, disclosure and honesty across all media, are now required by the FTC. WOMMA believes the updated Guides will usher in a new generation word-of-mouth of viral and social media marketers who place the highest priority on ethical practices. WOMMA President Elect Paul Rand explained, ‘The greatest value we can provide to our 400-plus members is helping them navigate the uncharted waters of social marketing. WOMMA takes great pride in not only equipping members with a venerable compliance ‘how-to,’ but also in the collaborative way we went about influencing policy, itself.'”

From one perspective, the guidelines offer support for the consumer and legitimate companies hoping to gain attention for their clients through transparent, ethical measures. The other camp, IAB in this case, feels that the regulations limit speech &#151 an argument that traditionally has been harder to defeat legally than ethics. In fact, in cases of libel (think tabloids, here) freedom of speech usually wins over the ethical argument &#151 even in cases where something might not be true. So although the FTC’s regulations are not law, it is possible to construe the situation as a government organization inhibiting speech, which if proven could result in another revision.


More:FTC Revises Endorsements and Testimonials: Transparency is Key