While I can’t pin down the precise date, and it’s been blogged about ad nauseam, the FTC is dropping regulations on blogging. These regulations say a lot of things, but what directly effects me is the fact that any ‘free’ or ‘review’ items which I write about for any of my freelance gigs need to be disclosed as such within the article itself, or a disclaimer at the end.

For a long time, I really thought that this was just the default. People got free stuff for talking about it. I’ve been ‘blogging’ since before the word existed. I embraced the world of the internet very early on as a vast plain for positive expression of all manner of ideas, and free stuff for being a popular writer was just a given. Unfortunately, and I should have anticipated this, many people are disingenuous, and the plains of the internet which were once ripe for exploration have become a dangerous, deceptive wilderness. This is really unfortunate. Like many things, the internet is a tool, and it’s only as good as how you yourself use it. I’ve spent plenty of time defending Facebook to older co-workers who can’t really grasp the fact that I’m putting any aspect of my life online, but if you’re reading this, you probably get it and I don’t need to explain that posting a status update is not the equivalent of inviting violent rapists to dinner.

I won’t lie – I get a LOT of free stuff. My DVD collection has exploded over the past year, and I’ve hardly had to buy a thing. Indiana Jones, The Godfather, Justice League, Dr. Who, Iron Man, UP, the complete Farscape, the complete animated Ghostbusters and even Rocky on Blu-Ray, just to name a few of the fancier, more expensive things I’ve obtained. Toys, books, and other little weirdnesses are everywhere – so much so that I’ve started to just give them away to friends. I get press releases every day asking if I want stuff, and nine times out of ten, I say no. They don’t fit into what I do, and I’m not going to pretend they do.

None of these things were obtained out of avarice. They were all completely appropriate to the writing situation, and I only request things that I really feel that the audience would be interested in learning more about, or that I feel I could write about in an entertaining, attractive way. On rare occasions, I get things that I just can’t find enough to write about, and I simply don’t write anything.

I’ve been doing this long enough so that getting something for free doesn’t change my opinion of it. I called out Disney on the hypocrisy of packaging an iPod-only disc with Wall-E, a film that actively opposed a society that lived their lives through tiny screens. I don’t think I’ve ever compromised my integrity, for the simple fact that I’m able to extract a molecule of goodness out of even the worst, hilariously bad THING. It’s not a lie if this is what I want to talk about. I don’t feel that I intentionally omit fatal product flaws in any review.

I don’t mind adding a disclaimer to my articles about all of this. I do mind the fact that I could be slapped with an immense fine if I forget to.

It’s also journalistic integrity that calls into question the practices of a friend of mine that have recently resurfaced. I won’t name any names, because he’s genuinely a nice guy and I enjoy our interactions. As someone who writes professionally, I can’t help but feel a little rattled, however.

D. works PR for a company. It’s a good company. Sometimes, we work together and I write articles about their products, though they’re more like press releases than reviews. I guess that lends them credibility – I just do what I’m told.

I’ve known for a long time that D. also writes under a pseudonym, which is also fine. I don’t think that he knows that I’m aware of this situation, but he used to submit articles to my old blog and ask to be paid for them. Of course, this was my personal blog, and I wasn’t making money off of it, and I had no interest in running other people’s stuff in my writing portfolio space, and I certainly wasn’t able to pay for it – so I rejected it all, sometimes with helpful comments about fixing grammar or a title. After a while, something clicked and I realized that this pseudonym and D. were the same person.

Here’s the problem – D. is writing articles about his own company in the third person, going as far as describing meeting himself. He also reviews his own items on Amazon as different names. These things are now encroaching into my territory and income.

So, my question is this – is it fair, as a PR person, to write fake articles and plant them in different publications without disclosing who you really are? It only seems to discredit the entire online writing industry, which is already folding underneath me. And this is precisely why the FTC is doing what it’s doing to EVERYONE right now. Corporate dishonesty and the rampant abuse of ‘viral’ marketing disguised as organic marketing makes it impossible for people who just love to write… to WRITE.

And that’s disappointing.

Good blogs are closing up shop everywhere because the economy can’t pay for writing anymore, and as much as I love to write, I also can’t write for free. This is why ToyCyte folded, as much as I wanted to continue writing there (in addition to technical issues that rendered the back end totally broken that were not addressed).