Before I start let me say that I agree with both the FDA and FTC (the big Fs), that companies need to improve their disclosure and honesty in packaging/labeling. I also completely agree with their initiative for bloggers and websites to disclose when they are getting free or paid samples from companies (as an endorsement or not) so readers know that there was a gift or transaction involved in the post.
Let me also disclaim that I am currently employed by one of the companies effected by these broad-reaching initiatives, although our upper management and lawyers have kept me out of it, thankfully. This is not a company-sponsored, encouraged or sanctioned post. This is my opinion and my opinion only.
Here is where the existence of social media is in serious jepeordy:
FTC.gov Online Endorsement Guidelines
“The Commission intends to treat endorsements and testimonials identically in the context of its enforcement of the Federal Trade Commission Act and for purposes of this part. The term endorsements is therefore generally used hereinafter to cover both terms and situations.”
One of the 17 companies was specifically targeted for pure customer testimonials on their site (I wonder who’s lobbying was able to do that, only one of the 17? Hmmmmm).
Let me restate. I completely agree with fixing all of the mislabeling and dishonest labeling and hope that all companies will be honest about what they are putting in products we buy.
Here is where social media will die…the first time
If a consumer can be held liable, as the FTC says, for anything they say if they are given a product either for free or paid. Then any comment you make after going to any big-box store, your local grocer or an event where you try a sip, taste or freebie will make you completely liable for anything you say about it. What happens if you go to dinner at a friends house who forges steal for a company that makes pots/pans that made the perfect meal you just ate, do you need to disclose everything you ate, the brand of ingredients and everything associated with it or you might get sued? The short answer is no. But the issue is a very slippery slope and both the FTC and FDA are starting to hop on the slide. Yes, I’m being ridiculous but my point is, there is a very fine line between keeping companies and the online community honest and making it impossible for everyone to do anything online for fear of the big F’s coming after them with unlimited consumer funding (because we all know they don’t care about how much it costs…us).
The second death of social media
The minute the big Fs (or big pharmaceutical lobbyists) are able to stop consumers from being able to voice their OPINIONS or FEELINGS is the minute we can all stop believing or hoping. You see a testimonial is not scientific, it is not studied, researched, scrutinized or proof that anything will work, cure, save or solve any problem. Testimonials are OPINIONS and FEELINGS by someone who had an experience with or about something. Often times, testimonials are simply the only hope we have because research and corporations (pharma, usually) have failed or priced things out of reach and we have no other hope. For the big Fs to say that all humans treat testimonials with the same weight as medical research is presumptuous and an insult to everyone’s intelligence. I’d like to see how the study was done, who funded it, who lobbied to have the study done (who funded that) and exactly what the study questions and options to answer were. It’s quite easy for companies and/or the government to create survey’s, studies or research that produces the results they (or lobbyist) want. It’s MUCH harder to produce a product that someone purchases themselves or tries at a friends house or in a big-box store, grocery store or at an event and believes in it enough to tell others…without compensation!
Compensated or implied-compensation testimonials are something totally different. I agree those should be disclosed. I’m talking about a pure testimonial, comment, post or article. If free sampling in stores or anywhere else can produce testimonials that hold both the consumer and company liable…how long will they last? Who wants to get sued by the big Fs every time they do sampling because someone may find they liked the product or had a great experience with it?
I find the general premise of the FTC & FDA actions spot-on. The scope, reach and potential power of these actions is what I find disturbing. So far I’m going to have faith that they’ll do the right thing and that they won’t over-reach either of their bounds and destroy social media for everyone.
I wouldn’t wait for my testimonial though. I’m going to hold out and see what the data and their track record show because this is the health of the internet we’re talking about and nobody is lobbying me.
DISCLAIMER: The internet, myself, or any of you will not, would not, might not and/or can not become healthy by reading this. None of the claims made here are made by me, supported by me or encouraged by me. This is for research and educational purposes ONLY, eating this article will not prevent anything, will make you gain weight and may force you to seek medical attention.
Major Contradiction by the Big Fs Shows A Concern For Lobbyists NOT Consumers
Why aren’t the Big Fs submitting the same complaints to their own sister agencies making similar claims encouraging consumers to buy/consume these products (and these aren’t testimonials, some aren’t even study-based) ? Here are just a few examples:
1) Department of Health & Human Services (referencing a CDC study): “Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is important for healthy weight and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. And kids get better growth with enough fruits and vegetables.” http://www.hhs.gov/news/healthbeat/2009/12/20091202a.html
2) Center for Disease Control (there are pages of supporting studies and statements on this site): “Epidemiologic evidence supports an association between diet and several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer (1-6).” http://www.cdc.gov/PCD/issues/2006/apr/05_0146.htm
3) U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Fiber, fruit and vegetable consumption may help prevent cancer…The consumption of vegetables and fruit has always been seen as health-promoting. Historically, particular fruits and vegetables were thought to prevent or cure ailments ranging from headaches to heart disease. Studies spanning several decades have shown that people who eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits have a lower incidence of many types of cancer than people who do not.” http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=10899
4) The U.S. Surgeon General: “In contrast, consumption of fruits and vegetables in place of high calorie foods may reduce the risk for obesity and help sustain weight loss because the body’s sense of fullness at meals is partly regulated by volume. Fruits and vegetables contain few calories and are bulky foods, so they have a low caloric density and are more filling than fast foods.” http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/obesityvision/obesityvision2010.pdf
5) U.S. Public Health Service (part of Department of Health & Human Services): “It is estimated that as much as 50 percent or more of cancer can be prevented through smoking cessation and improved dietary habits, such as reducing fat consumption and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.,  Physical activity and weight control also can contribute to cancer prevention., ” http://www.usphs.gov/corpslinks/pharmacy/phpharm/hpcancer.html