Excitable bloggers like us ought to calm down, because it’s not as if official crackdowns on the dispensing of freebies ever generate absurd results: Docblogger White Coat just snapped that picture at the scientific assembly of the American College of Emergency Physicians. (The campaign against drug company freebies for doctors, of course, began with publicity over inducements that were a whole lot more sizable and focused than convention-hall refreshments, but appears to have quickly extended to de minimis courtesies as well).
Meanwhile, FTC officials are getting all huffy about supposed misunderstandings and misconceptions about their new guidelines. Per PRNewser, some blogs have mistakenly reported the applicable fines as ranging up to $11,000, which is an obsolete number and should in fact be $16,000. Besides which, the commission does not have the authority to impose such fines on its own authority — it has to take its target to court. (Feeling reassured yet?) And FTC assistant director Richard Cleland says the agency does not intend to go after bloggers for nondisclosure standing alone (as opposed, apparently, to nondisclosure in combination with claimed misrepresentation of the qualities of the books, movies, conferences or whatever is being promoted). The main targets of regulation, he stresses, are the publishers or others who dispense the freebies — who of course will have new incentives to protect themselves by controls on distribution, as did Schering-Plough in the sign above.
Something to look forward to, no doubt, in the exhibit hall at future conventions: “If you are a blogger or other Social Media user, please refrain from taking any of the free magazines, calendars or sun visors in this display…” (& welcome Glenn Reynolds/Instapundit readers)
Anyone who has been involved in NCAA recruiting can tell you the absurd results that flow from defining even tiny freebies as violations. For example, when I interview high school students for Princeton, I have to be careful not to buy them lunch or coffee on the off-chance they turn out to be athletes where such a purchase could trigger a recruiting violation.
And Patrick at Popehat identifies another sort of “endorsement” that might arguably be covered by the language of the guidelines: linking to other blogs, especially when done insincerely.