#GamerGate had a campaign last year to target various video game and media websites and bring some of what they felt were unethical practices to the doorstep of the FTC. The FTC acknowledged those complaints and launched an investigation into online media outlets, including Gawker and their subsidiaries. Recently, the FTC updated their guidelines on paid endorsements, affiliate links and video game and YouTube promotion, specifically targeting the Let’s Play and live-stream culture.
Reddit user The Chief Lunatic has been keeping abreast and in contact with the FTC official in charge of addressing the issues and guidelines for paid endorsements. The history of getting in contact with the FTC and the guidelines relating to affiliate links, video game reviews and YouTuber culture is chronicled in a recent post on Kotaku in Action.
The actual FTC guidelines that were updated regarding endorsements and what people have been asking about have been let loose to the public on the FTC.gov website.
Some of the new guidelines include addressing multi-channel corporations operating on YouTube, specifically in regards to Let’s Play videos and commentary-based impression videos. This comes a year after the infamous XB1M13 campaign that saw YouTubers signing contracts to promote games, get paid for the coverage and not disclose it. You can check out how the FTC advises YouTubers and channel affiliates to address disclosures.
Even if you’re live-streaming on YouTube, Hitbox or Twitch.tv, it’s important to address disclosure. You can check out what the FTC advises video content makers to do when they receive a free copy of a game they’re promoting or playing on their channel.
If you finished a stream and uploaded the content to YouTube or DailyMotion, the FTC advises content creators to include disclosures at the beginning of the video, noting that disclosures at the end of the video will likely go unseen, stating…
“It’s more likely that a disclosure at the end of the video will be missed, especially if someone doesn’t watch the whole thing. Having it at the beginning of the review would be better. Having multiple disclosures during the video would be even better. Of course, no one should promote a link to your review that bypasses the beginning of the video and skips over the disclosure. If YouTube has been enabled to run ads during your video, a disclosure that is obscured by ads is not clear and conspicuous.”
It’s also mentioned that disclosures in the YouTube description box may not be adequate enough. They suggest adding it to the start of the video, stating…
“The disclosure has the most chance of being effective if it is made clearly and prominently in the video itself. That’s not to say that you couldn’t have disclosures in both the video and the description.”
Some YouTubers like TotalBiscuit have already begun doing disclosures not only in descriptions but also in the videos themselves.
Others have been adding disclosures in ways similar to the way television stations do it, such as Inside Sim Racing, a prominent YouTube outlet that covers racing video games.
I reached out to Darin Gangi from Inside Sim Racing to address the topic of disclosures, particularly in response to some users feeling as if the disclosures were not made entirely clear when some of the content was paid content and other content was standard. This came to a head over a recent discussion involving Project CARS and potential undisclosed endorsements, as reported on Pretend Racecars.
According to Gangi…
“In the video [for iRacing], the sponsors of iRace4Life are all listed at the head of the video. The only sponsors in that list that are also sponsors for ISRTV are SimXperience and Thrustmaster. I was asked to include those sponsors in all the iRace4Life videos as part of our agreement and to have the videos available on our channel.
“We don’t have any “written disclosure policies” with any of our sponsors. We don’t hide the fact that any of those companies are sponsors and as a matter of fact have banner ads for all of our sponsors at our website. Some do promotional plugs and have product placement in our videos as well.”
“When the review has a clear and conspicuous disclosure of your relationship and the reader can see both the review containing that disclosure and the link at the same time, readers have the information they need. You could say something like, “I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.” But if the product review containing the disclosure and the link are separated, readers may lose the connection.
“As for where to place a disclosure, the guiding principle is that it has to be clear and conspicuous. The closer it is to your recommendation, the better. Putting disclosures in obscure places – for example, buried on an ABOUT US or GENERAL INFO page, behind a poorly labeled hyperlink or in a “terms of service” agreement – isn’t good enough. Neither is placing it below your review or below the link to the online retailer so readers would have to keep scrolling after they finish reading. Consumers should be able to notice the disclosure easily.”
Oh that’s beautiful.
This also coincides with a current investigation that the FTC has launched into Gawker media, which has been ongoing since December of 2014.
Additionally, game reviewers from traditional websites also aren’t off the hook. Remember, it was Kotaku and the like that started #GamerGate so they’re also beholden to some of these new guidelines that the FTC will hope enforce major media outlets to follow. If you get any kind of free content from a product manufacturer be prepared to spread your cheeks and let everyone know that you lent your butt to them for an early copy of the game, as pointed out in the FTC’s FAQ.
Now, there are some game journalists out there who feel as if #GamerGate has been invasive and nitpicky, decrying that now they feel as if they should have to disclose everything. This is not the case and even the FTC acknowledges this, stating that…
“As long as your audience knows the nature of your relationship, it’s good enough. So whether you got $50 or $1,000 you could simply say you were “paid.” (That wouldn’t be good enough, however, if you’re an employee or co-owner.)”
So if you were paid, given something for free or had some sort of compensation for your coverage… just let the audience know. It’s really that simple.
You can check out the full tips and advice about the FTC’s rules and guidelines on paid endorsements and disclosure by visiting the official FTC website.