Commercial disclosure

The Guardian is asking a very important question (in social media terms, at least) today: Is it ethical to pay bloggers to tweet? Sunny Hundal and Helen Lewis have taken opposing positions (Hundal for, Lewis against). The Guardian’s question relates to Sky News’s payments to bloggers in exchange for said bloggers tweeting about its Murnaghan Sunday morning political discussion show.  Applied more broadly, the question is a good one. So, is it ethical to pay bloggers to tweet?

Fortunately, this question ties in nicely with a discussion we’ve been having on CommsTalk about the ASA’s recent rulings about Twitter promotions. The central point, whether it’s about promoting trainers, chocolate bars, hair cuts or TV shows, is that undisclosed commercial promotions can be at best misleading and, in some instances, damage trust. When they do damage trust, they do so not just in the celebrities and commentators, but also in Twitter itself.

One of the best things about Twitter is its authenticity. Tweets have a sense of direct communication. They connect us with others – friends, businesses, celebrities, causes, etc. – in a very direct way. The conversation is instant and there’s a sense that it’s open and honest. It would be a pity if distrust started to seep in, in the way it has with other media. All the UK’s national newspapers are seen to favour one agenda or another. The BBC, generally respected for its quality and its balance, is shot at from all sides of the political spectrum for supporting “the other side”.

Of course, Twitter doesn’t create the content of tweets, so it’s less likely to succumb to the charge of bias. However, if people begin to become wary of tweets, fearing some alternative agenda and speculating at the commercial motives behind the tweets, then Twitter will become a less nice and less trusting place. It would be a pity if that were to happen simply because of a lack of commercial disclosure.


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