By Mark Tatge
Ads are pretending to be news. The “news” often passed off as unbiased information when in fact it is nothing more than a product pitch. The latest target: turning Twitter messages into paid promotions. This is new for Twitter, but not for the rest of social media.
Advertisers have been secretly using citizens bloggers to write puff pieces about their products for years without telling readers. Bloggers collect fees and free merchandise and write puff pieces about products and services. Companies pay for product, restaurant and travel reviews. The arrangements are often not disclosed.
But the New York Times reports that social media sites are taking citizen marketing to a new extreme, turning anyone’s Twitter message, Facebook post, Pinterest image or e-mail into a possible paid promotion. The situation has gotten so bad that it is difficult to tell what is an ad and what is not. So is someone Tweeting a particular item because they are getting paid to Tweet it? Good question.
The Federal Trade Commission says the practice blurs the line between a recommendation and a paid endorsement and needs to be flagged to readers. The shopping sites say they are open about the practice and have nothing to hide.
“It’s turning word of mouth into a revenue opportunity,” said Mary Engle, who directs the commission’s division of advertising practices, in an interview with the New York Times. “Since they’re getting compensated, in a sense, for their endorsement, then they should disclose that.”