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Business owners have yet another new hat to wear!

By:Christine Fettinger

The internet has changed the way we do business and it has changed the way we act as customers. Specifically the way customers do research on a company or a product. From blogs and Amazon customer reviews to Tweets and the entire range of ‘Social-Not-Working’ mediums.

The internet has made us all much ‘smarter’ consumers, at least that is how it appears.

But how accurate is that review on Amazon? Is that blogger an unbiased source of information? For the last few years many people just assumed everyone was submitting an honest opinion, but how could that really be possible, everyone honest?

The FCC and the courts are attempting to make people and businesses liable for their statements. And this is where the business owner needs to be watchful. Now bloggers whom have any affiliation with a company must identify themselves. Obviously we want employees to identify themselves when they promote their own business. Now the even the person whom received a free product, or receives free service associated with a product they review, must identify themselves.

Business found to be trying to slip this by the consumer will be penalized. Business owners need to coach their staff and are responsible for what their staff is stating on the internet about themselves or even competitors.

A few recent articles on CNN.com highlight this significant issue of balancing free speech with devious marketing.

Manav Tanneeru covers how business and individuals are being found liable for the comments they make. In “Can the Law Keep Up with Technology?” we see the recent libel court case associated with a Twitter post Cortney Love made regarding her dissatisfaction with a professional designer. We also see a property management business won a libel case where a former tenant made damaging statements about the apartment they rented, statements that were not true.

Conversely, Rick Klau’s article on “In Defense of Bloggers’ Free Speech” is attempting to publicize the importance of free speech within society and how the various mediums have evolved over the years in a similar fashion to the way blogs are proliferating across the internet. Specifically, how important these mediums are to the global society. Censorship must be stopped.

Business owners need to be aware of their rights to protect themselves as well as their duty to facilitate the behavior of their staff and affiliates when commenting on their business on the internet. This ‘hat’ is going to consume a lot of time and resources.