Can you believe blogs?

Bloggers sometimes lie. Indeed there are some notorious blogs which aren’t quite what they purport to be. Two years ago the giant American corporation Wal-Mart withdrew a fake blog, “Wal-Marting Across America”, from the web. Other companies like Coca Cola and Sony have had to take similar action following exposure of the lie behind their blogs. These were “apparently” written by consumers, but in fact were PR initiatives put together by the companies themselves. We had been lied to.

Being lied to by PR people is nothing new. Michael Jackson’s PR manager apparently lied about the singer’s debts; the UK Government told us that BSE (“Mad Cow Disease”) was not an issue (when they knew it was); and the Sydney Olympics got into hot water over its promise of a seating ballot that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Fibs, deceptions, call them what you like, but we all hate them; we feel cheated.

Imagine if you were reading a blog that claimed it was a business traveller keeping a diary of his visits. You might find it interesting, amusing or entertaining. But what would you think if you discovered six months later that this traveller was in fact a PR executive whose blog postings were merely paid for by his travel company clients. You would almost certainly feel as though you had been lied to.

Luckily, this is all set to change. At the moment, blogs can lie to you. But under new legislation recently introduced, lying like this will be illegal. If you have a blog that is paid for by a client, you must make it clear that it is, in effect, sponsored or an advert. Consumers demand that they know the difference between editorial and advertising. With blogging that distinction has evaporated. Now, the “Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading” legislation puts paid to that problem; if a blog entry is paid for, sponsored or in any way is a PR message for one of your clients, then your entry must reveal that fact. If you fail to do so, it’s a £5,000 fine and up to two years in jail, or both.

So let me make this clear. This blog posting entry has not been paid for by any of my clients and it is not a promotional message in any way. It’s just designed to make you think of two things – firstly, that the law has changed and you might need to consider the way you blog. Secondly, any deception of your readers will eventually come and bite your behind. If you lie, deceive or cheat your readers in any way, they will desert you – and tell plenty of other people not to believe you. After all, how many of us believe what Northern Rock has to say? Their web site was telling us everything was fine and rosy, four days after the run on the bank started. Now whatever happened to their reputation I wonder?

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