If you grew up in a small town like I did, you probably heard the term "big brother is watching you" for just about everything you did. With the availability of mass social networks and blogging, you have to wonder just how much is big brother watching you? And who else is watching?
Even scarier is the fact that we live in a very litigious world. People are willing to sue for just about anything. And even though they may ultimately lose, just fighting the battle can be expensive financially, emotionally and socially.
Most of us live and work in a world where we don't believe we're doing anything wrong, so therefore we have no need to stay abreast of every little law change in every field. This morning a friend pointed me to the FTC changes in "truth in advertising" which now affects social media and bloggers. I very rarely do reviews by request, and I post no reviews on Amazon or other book related sites, so therefore this ruling doesn't currently have a drastic affect on me - except for people I may ask to review me. It does create a greater responsibility on me as an author to watch reviews written or tags added to my books. And it may increase responsibility on businesses such as Amazon, B & N and others who allow reviews and tagging on their sites.
A hypothetical would be someone adding a huge author's name to their tags in order to direct more traffic to their book through specific searches. You may at first think no harm no foul. The viewer will immediately see the book wasn't written by the author they were looking for. However, should the viewer buy your book thinking that you have some connection to this author, or that your writing will be like their beloved author only to find out it isn't, they may perhaps notify this famous author of your use of their name, whereas the famous author or their publisher may look up your book and decide you have indeed damaged them in some way. Could they sue you? Of course they could. Would they win? Based on a case by case study the FTC may decide that you are guilty of false advertising and perhaps award them a sum. Perhaps not. I guess the question you would have to ask yourself in this endeavor is if the possibility of a few sales is worth the risk.
Another hypothetical is a review blogger that forgets to state that they received a free copy of your book in exchange for the review, or forgets to say they know you personally or you're published by the same publisher or, blah, blah, blah. The list could go on forever of little things you might simply forget to add in your blog disclaimer. So how could this be used against you? Once again it boils down to someone who doesn't like what you had to say, or perhaps you gave one book a bad review and a similar book a good review and the first author finds out that you work with the second author and yet made no mention of that in your review. Once again, it's the little things and vindictive people that will have the most influence on enforcing the FTC's rules and regulations.
Honest reviews are already difficult to come by, and this ruling may make them even more difficult--or eventually reviews may lose all credibility in the eyes of the reading public. Reviews will no long be seen as simply the opinion of the reviewer unless the reviewer states in bold letters that the review is their opinion, and can prove, if necessary, that they were not unduly influenced by something other than the product they are reviewing.
In the future should I review books I will place a disclaimer on my review for self-protection. And just like my reviews, the disclaimer will be truthful. Will that totally protect me? Not really. Not if someone decides to take a dislike to something I've said or feels there was some unseen influence on what I wrote. And it will be interesting to see if book reviewers that post to Amazon will add the disclaimer that they received the book free in exchange for their review, or that they received some other compensation in exchange for their review. Will Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly also be held to these same standards? I believe they will, and they will have to disclose their association with the publishers for whom they review. That actually may be quite interesting.
Links to the FTC sites related to this article are listed below: