Shame, Deceit and Double Standards? How to get caught in the trap

I have recently done two opps for PayPerPost again after nearly six months, and I must say… I was thrilled to be active again when I nabbed a couple of great opps: for a webhosting review site and for a computer repair service. And I really enjoyed writing about both opportunities – I was able to add a lot of my experience to both opps and wrote far and above the minimum requirements of both opps. If you look at them, you’ll see why they are different from some of the other opps that I have seen done by other bloggers. Indeed, there are many fine bloggers in PayPerPost; they also write a lot of wonderful opportunities, you’ll find some of them in my buzzes, others in my friends , and more in my comments.

Coercive Non-Disclosure

no disclosure

I’m pretty sure that’s a phrase you haven’t heard of, it’s not one I had thought of until a few days as affecting bloggers, until I got a rejection for one of my opps in my inbox. I took a look at the comment and was informed that I had failed to abide by one of the requirements, that of disclosing the post. Irony of ironies was that I’ve run a disclosure on my site since late 2006. In fact, in those days, few opps would require such a non-disclosure.

What is Coercive Non-Disclosure?

Coercive Non-Disclosure is a requirement imposed by some advertisers that the blogger NOT reveal the sponsored nature of the post. In other words, the blogger is not able to reveal to his readers that payment is being made. In the beginning, I never used to worry about such things (I’ll be honest about that!), but having worked with several sites on Sponsored Posts, including PayPerPost, SocialSpark, SponsoredReviews, Blogsvertise and one or two others over the past two years, I’ve become MUCH more discerning about such posts, and usually avoid them. In fact, looking through several of these systems, they can constitute upwards of 30%-50% of the available opps. In December or January, I was looking through my own ‘About‘ page, and started reorganizing that, trimming the fat, and trying to make something that resembled what I actually did. In that page, I made a promise to my readers: I will endeavor to disclose that relationship.

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa

And I did fail at that. Thanks to Payperpost, I got the opportunity to revisit the post, and disclosure page, where I rediscovered that sentence. I faced no other choice: to remove the links, and other accessories. Fortunately, I had written a fairly decent post about servers problems anyway, so the neutered post fitted in well as it was. I’m pleased I spent that much time writing it. However, I had to eat humble pie on that one! So I’m now making my own confession about this. I think I did feel shame about this.

It got me thinking!

I hadn’t paid attention to such posts in the past, but somehow the whole affair got to me. I started to read the Terms of Service that PayPerPost has on their website: it clearly states –

advertising on ppp

Round #1: Needing a Little Support

I’ve created an image showing the TOS as of the writing of this post and linked to it for you to read yourself. Anyway, that’s when I fired off this email to Customer Love: asking whether this coercive non-disclosure isn’t in fact an infringement of their own TOS. I also flagged a few advertised opps to bring it to their attention. This is the email/support ticket I submitted:

It’s come to my notice that a number of advertisers are actually infringing on the rights of bloggers as per your TOS… This is called co-ercive non-disclosure…

Phrases like no-in post disclosure or similar are now illegal under PPP’s TOS: and the statement is NOT hidden away…

Could you comment on this… Please?

Excerpt from TOS
2.1. TRANSPARENCY & DISCLOSURE.

PayPerPost requires full disclosure by all Marketplace participants. Any attempt to instruct, coerce or manipulate a Blogger into hiding the commercial relationship between you and the Blogger may result in removal from the system. Advertiser agrees to comply with Our Advertiser Code of Ethics, the Federal Trade Commission’s Staff Opinion Letter dated December 7, 2006, WOMMA’s Ethical Blogger Contract Guidelines, and all applicable laws and regulations, including but not limited to Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guidelines.

Care to make any comments?

I think I was a little mad at the time, because I didn’t argue my case very well. I merely asserted what to me had become obvious. To which, I received a nice reply from Gordon at Customer Love who wrote:

Hi Kenneth,

Thank you for reaching out to us.

All opportunities and blogs that participate in the PPP marketplace do require disclosure. There are 3 types of acceptable disclosure in this marketplace.

  • 1) In post disclosure – e.g. this post is sponsored by ABC company
  • 2) Bubble disclosure – this is the bubble add at the end of a post that states sponsored by ABC Company
  • 3) Site-wide disclosure – this is an overall policy for the blog, where the blogger would have a link to Disclosure Policy, or something similar.

When an advertiser requests no in post disclosure, they are requesting that neither 1 or 2 are used, but 3 must be present, in order for a post to be approved. Therefore, an advertiser’s request for no in-post disclosure is not infringing on the rights of the blogger. If a blogger does not feel comfortable posting for an advertiser that requires only site-wide disclosure, then the blogger has the right to not take the opportunity.

All opportunities are reviewed and approved by IZEA employees. We will not approve any opportunities for which the advertiser is requesting NO disclosure, at all.

I hope that this answers your question.

Best Regards,

Gordon

I wasn’t satisfied with this explanation. Why? Because instead of putting the choice in the hands of the blogger, it clearly allowed the advertiser to dictate WHAT kind of disclosure was required. So I wrote a detailed reply that examined each of the documents that was sited and am posting it below for your information.

Round #2: Reopening Old Wounds

After the ticket was replied by Gordon, he closed it. Mmm. Of course, this was just the thing I needed to start my next rant, this post, and hopefully, an interesting discussion.

I just wanted to say that I took a look at the opp I took and I was personally ashamed about taking an opp that required no inpost disclosure.

I had made a pact with my readers about this a while ago, and hadn’t noticed it until I was forced to look at the post as part of a revision requested by PPP editors.

Unfortunately, when I read the post, the coercive non-disclosure of the posting made me very unhappy… Then when I read the TOS, I began to see things quite differently.

It’s difficult to imagine that this is NOT infringing the rights of the Blogger: “Any attempt to instruct, coerce or manipulate a Blogger into hiding the commercial relationship between you and the Blogger may result in removal from the system. Advertiser agrees to comply with Our Advertiser Code of Ethics, the Federal Trade Commission’s Staff Opinion Letter dated December 7, 2006, WOMMA’s Ethical Blogger Contract Guidelines, and all applicable laws and regulations, including but not limited to Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guidelines.”

I fail to see HOW this coercive non-disclosure DOES NOT infringe not only the blogger’s freedom… it is specifically telling the BLOGGER HOW he or she MUST disclose. Moreover, the failure to include a specific disclosure specifically suggest that the post is NOT sponsored, and that therefore the BLOGGER is hiding the nature of the commercial relationship between him- or herself and the advertiser. It is also against the trend of fully disclosing relationships that we see in other media…

But worse, a closer reading of the wording of your own Guide of Ethics states: “That’s why we insist on a strict policy of full-disclosure when you discuss an advertiser’s product or service on your blog. By receiving payment for blogging about a certain topic, even if you would have written about that topic anyway, you run the risk of giving the impression of a conflict of interest. By showing your audience, in a very visible and proactive manner, that you are being paid for that content, you will maintain the trust of your readers and avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

Anything other than stating a particular post is sponsored is not, and cannot be, a full-disclosure. A blogger is hiding details of a relationship under the guise of a general blog disclaimer. Other words that are used include: “conflict of interest”, “impropriety”, … I’m sure you can pick up a few more.

Having read through the letter from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), I can only cite the conclusion of the letter: “the decision … should NOT (my emphasis) be construed as a formal Commission determination…”. Such lack of specific guidelines are only appropriate at the time the letter was issued (nearly 3 years ago!)…

As far as the WOMMA guidelines go, I can’t see how coercive non-disclosure in posts is NOT in contravention of this spirit. The words read: “… we do instruct them to be open and honest about any relationship with a marketer and about any products or incentives that they may have received.
* We stand against shill and undercover marketing, whereby people are paid to make recommendations without disclosing their relationship with the marketer.
* We comply with FTC regulations that state: “When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product which might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience) such connection must be fully disclosed.”

Gordon, I’m sure that you know the guidelines at least 10x better than I do, yet I fail to see how PPP can condone such a practice. PPP is barely within its own TOS, its clearly contravening the spirit of the law, though the letter of the law may not be spelled out clearly as yet, and it’s way over the limit in terms of WOMMA’s Code of Ethics.

Don’t get wrong, Gordon, … I’m a huge supporter of PPP, but I stopped using other services when almost 90% of the posts required non-disclosure. After looking at my opps yesterday, I saw 2/3rds of them also required coercive non-disclosure. It’s that hidden, secretive nature of paid blogging that is really undermining the whole industry. On this point, Payperpost SERIOUSLY needs to reconsider its position, and make the RIGHT decision for its own advertisers, bloggers, and their readers. Otherwise the lawyers will have a field day, if they have a chance, and Ted’s dream will be sued out of existence.

BTW, to open up discussion on this whole issue, I’m posting it on my blog for my own readers to discuss. I’d certainly be grateful of feedback on this issue, if you have time, though you seem to regard this issue as already decided. I’m not so sure the FTC feels that way, though.

Having read through the letter from the FTC, the words that keep coming to mind are: ‘deceit’, ‘trickery’, ‘omission’, etc… Since I reopened the ticket, I’m still looking to a reply from Gordon. This is a crack that’s been open for a while, and hasn’t been repaired properly yet. Let’s see if they see it that way, though!

Personal Reflections

Regardless of the way PayPerPost’s lawyers choose to frame the discussion, I’m finding myself somewhat unhappy nowadays with the sense that I’m working with a company or advertiser that would encourage me to engage in such practices. I’m happy though to be working with PayPerPost’s successor, SocialSpark. Though SocialSpark is a sister company of PayPerPost, and the TOS is remarkably similar in this paragraph:

SocialSpark requires full disclosure by all Marketplace participants. Any attempt to instruct, coerce or manipulate a Blogger into hiding the commercial relationship between you and the Blogger may result in removal from the system. Advertiser agrees to comply with Our Advertiser Code of Ethics, the Federal Trade Commission’s Staff Opinion Letter dated December 7, 2006, WOMMA’s Ethical Blogger Contract Guidelines, and all applicable laws and regulations, including but not limited to Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guidelines.

I know for a fact that SocialSpark does not permit such disclosure practices, all posts are fully disclosed. I’m quite perplexed how an identical statement can be used to say one thing for SocialSpark, and another for PayPerPost. Given that SocialSpark is considered to be PPP2.0 in many respects, it’s quite clear that PPP’s current view of such coercive arrangements is not how things will be done at some point. I, however, feel that we need to press harder for clearer standards on this point.

Author: InvestorBlogger

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