The Federal Trade Commission has updated its consumer protection rules for online activities, and has specifically taken aim at celebrity tweeters.
The agency released the rules yesterday (PDF), and outlined how celebrities who want to promote a product on Twitter should do so. To illustrate its point, the FTC used a fictional celebrity it called Juli Starz. The original tweet shows her endorsing a "Fat-away" pill that helped her lose 30 pounds in six weeks. That tweet was accompanied by a URL to the product's site.
According to the FTC, that kind of endorsement is now illegal. For one thing, the organization says, Juli didn't say that it was an ad. The ad also lacked a qualification saying how likely it was that others could anticipate that kind of result.
In a second example, the FTC showed Juli using the "#spon" hashtag to indicate that it's a sponsored posting. Once again, however, the tweet fails to meet guidelines, since "#spon" is too obscure for many would-be customers. So, what would a celebrity need to do? According to the FTC, it should be clearly marked as an "ad" and include the typical results for any product.
The celebrity tweeting example is one of many that have found their way to the FTC's new online guidelines. Those rules are designed to regulate how advertisements are displayed in digital environments. An earlier set of rules sent down by the FTC came in 2000 -- long before some of the latest technologies, including Twitter, were used as advertising platforms.
In the event celebrity tweeters violate the FTC's advertising ruling, they could face a lawsuit and fine. The FTC didn't say how it will determine the level of damages.
(Via The Wall Street Journal)