FTC Cracks Down on Facebook, Twitter Ads

Dennis Faas's picture

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has revised its rules about online advertising to better account for new trends in social media. The FTC warns that the short format of ads on Facebook and Twitter is no excuse for misleading customers.

The warning comes in a document called ".Com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising." It's an update to an original set of guidelines called "Dot Com Disclosures," which was published in 2000.

This is the first time the rules have been updated, even though the Internet has changed dramatically since that time. The key to the revised rules: reminding online advertisers that consumer protection laws apply equally to all ads, even if they are delivered via social media posts.

Twitter Space Limit Is No Excuse, FTC Says

According to the FTC, advertisers must include disclaimers, where necessary, to avoid misleading a consumer in an advertising claim. The commission says that restrictions, such as the 140-character limit for Twitter posts, don't justify leaving out important details.

"[If] the disclosure cannot be made clearly and conspicuously on a device or platform, then that device or platform should not be used," the FTC report says. (Source: ftc.gov)

One suggestion is for advertisers to open Twitter messages with "Ad:" when they contain promotional content.

The new rules also say that relying on pop-up boxes to provide disclaimers is no longer sufficient because so many people use browsers and other software tools that block such ads.

The FTC says it's okay for advertisers to include a link to a full disclaimer and terms and conditions, so long as the link is clearly labeled and will work on a wide range of devices.

Online Ads Must Not Bury Vital Information

However, the new guidelines warn that price details and important health and safety information must always be presented within the advertisement itself, rather than only being accessible by following a link.

The rules for ads and marketing messages on traditional web pages have also been tightened up. Under the old system, advertisers simply had to make sure any disclosures were "near" to the main claims.

The new guidelines explicitly say the disclosures must be "as close as possible" to the claims. (Source: slashgear.com)

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