OFT cracks down on social media malpractice

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has cracked down on a blogging company it found to be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

The OFT conducted a six month investigation into blogging network Handpicked Media which used people to blog, Twitter and comment on behalf of its clients without disclosing that it was being done in return for payment.

In a statement the OFT said that when comments are made without ‘sufficient disclosures’ to say they have been paid for, it would be ‘deceptive’.

Heather Clayton, senior director of OFT’s consumer group, said: ‘The integrity of information published online is crucial so that people can make informed decisions on how to spend their money. We expect online advertising and marketing campaigns to be transparent so consumers can clearly tell when blogs, posts and microblogs have been published in return for payment or payment in kind. We expect this to include promotions for products and services as well as editorial content.’

This is a precedent-setting enforcement action because it confirms that some of the advertising and marketing campaigns being run under the guise of social media are in fact illegal. This shouldn’t effect how PR agencies operate in social media as they can continue to focus on genuine earned word of mouth.

Wolfstar Consultancy has always operated under the principle of full disclosure and always requests that bloggers reveal how we’ve helped them – be it with review samples, free products, travel or whatever. And we have never paid for coverage.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://mydarabell.com/ Dara Bell

    I think the Wolfstar approach is the one to follow. Open and transparent. we are probably going to see more malpractice, probably high pressure sales in Social spaces and the like. Good they have stepped in.

    I think we can police ourselves. The disclosure should be part of doing business. Nowadays we are beta testing softeware, roadtesting products etc and that is many not a few.

    Dara Bell