In 2005, the European Union published a Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices that, among other things, outlines “sharp practices” which will be prohibited throughout the EU, such as pressure selling, misleading marketing and unfair advertising.
The Directive is due to become part of EU members’ national laws in early 2008. Social media channels such as blogs – and fake blogs in particular – are included, according to The Register:
[…] Covert commercial blogging – or flogging – will soon be banned by Brussels.
Under laws due to come into force at the beginning of next year, but likely to be delayed until April for the UK, companies posing as consumers on fake blogs, providing fake testimonies on consumer rating websites such as TripAdvisor, or writing fake book reviews on Amazon risk criminal or civil liability.
[…] Not only will it impose a general ban on unfair practices, but it will also include two main categories of unfair commercial practice: misleading practices and aggressive practices. Whether a commercial practice is unfair will be assessed in light of the effect it has, or is likely to have, on the average consumer’s decision to buy.
The directive catches all commercial organisations – big or small – and the upshot is that companies (including sole traders) will no longer be able to pay individual bloggers or professional agencies to post false or misleading blogs or reviews online. Nor will they be able to do it themselves.
A step forward for ethics and transparency? It looks like it, certainly. Whether the Directive will actually have any teeth in individual EU member states remains to be seen.
See also – anti-astroturfing resources at The New PR Wiki.