“Ghost blogging is illegal”, says CIPR

Rather an interesting statement has made its way into the latest iteration of the CIPR’s Social Media Guidelines. According to the section in the Guidelines covering Social Media and the CIPR Code of Conduct:

"[CIPR] Members' use of social media must be transparent, and they must make extra effort to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. … In this regard, members should be aware that ‘ghosting’ a blog is illegal"

Uh, sorry? Come again. “[M]embers should be aware that ‘ghosting’ a blog is illegal”. Since when? Well, according to last year’s Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, misleading marketing practices are illegal. But does this really extend to any blog that is ghosted?

Back to the CIPR: “[c]reating fake blogs (‘ghosting’)” is an example of a social media activity that falls under this legislation."

I’m not so sure. Yes, I agree a ghosted blog is disingenuous, bad social media practice and yes, I would agree that a blog purporting to be written by a genuine customer but in reality written by a marketing team would breach the legislation.

But can you go as far as to issue a blanket statement claiming *all* ghosted blogs breach unfair trading regulations? I think it’s unlikely.

So what’s the CIPR’s rational? To be honest, I’m not sure. It always errs on the side of caution, but this is potentially misleading. Interestingly, the statement is a new addition from the original consultation document so maybe they took on advice from someone at the consultation stage.

If they did then great. As usual I blogged my submission which was largely similar to the previous year's and also as usual I didn’t receive any feedback on my submission so I don’t know who submitted recommendations and what changes were made. 

Comments

  1. Can trade associations get social media?

    Both the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) have published papers on social media this week. One thing they appear to have in common is that neither was very good. Amelia Torode…

  2. I agree with your cautious approach, but, I am struggling to think of a situation when a fake blog would not be a clear attempt to deliberately mislead in favour of their product.
    If they disclosed it as a marketing exercise it would not longer be fake.

  3. This is a really murky area – do we think the CIPR is saying that ghosting is at odds with their of conduct? If so, internal communicators could be in trouble.
    And if you’re saying that ghosting a blog is wrong, I’m struggling to see how speechwriters get away with it.
    If they are saying that the edelman/walmart sort of thing is wrong then they get my vote – and I look forward to the first public expulsions.

  4. @Andrew I think the difference is for e.g. a blog authored by a fictitious character is fake )think a blog by Captain Birdseye) but not necessarily illegal (but bad practice) whereas a blog by a ‘real’ person intended to deliberately impersonate a ‘real’ consumer is illegal. The issue isn;t as clear cut as this of course, but I can’t think of an incidence when the CIPR’s perspective “all ghosted blogs are fake” would stand in a court.
    @Liam – Totally agree. Maybe the main learning here is that traditional PR practices seen as ‘par for the course’ (e.g. ghosting speeches, CEO quotes etc) should be brought under scrutiny?

  5. I think that as long as you are not misleading and trying to trick people, then most people will accept some ghost blogging – much in the same way they accept that Barack Obama has a speech writer and that Burger’s King’s The King blog is not actually written by the King.
    I think as long as the content is true to the thoughts of the person owning the blog, then it’s OK for communicators to help them express their thoughts in words.
    I think it comes down to what my Gran used to say: “lying is bad and you will get found out’.

  6. Simon, I just think that the whole statement is flawed based on the statement that the internet is a channel.
    Its like saying paper is a channel.
    Most of the internet, that is, the network of transmission technologies using Internet Protocols is used for communicating data which is, for all intents and purposes, well beyond the need for PR involvement.
    Online relationships using internet technologies is a different thing and uses many platforms and channels.
    If we think of the internet as a channel and then suddenly focus on one channel such as blogs, there is a grave danger that the PR industry focuses on one very small aspect of online PR at the expense of its true potential.
    For these reasons, I agree with your sentiment. Be guided bu the CoC. It is much more relevant.

  7. Are ‘ghosted’ Chairman’s Statements and Chief Executive’s reviews also ‘illegal’ in the not-so-very humble opinion of the CIPR? If so I have been impenitentently breaking the law for a couple of decades with dozens of Annual Reports signed off by captains of industry. Yet another reason for grown-ups to avoid the CIPR like the plague.

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