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Warner Bros. Settles FTC Charge For Not Disclosing Payments To YouTubers For Positive Reviews (theverge.com) 81

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with Warner Bros. over claims that the publisher failed to disclose that it had paid prominent YouTubers for positive coverage of one of its video games. The FTC charge stated that Warner Bros. deceived customers by paying thousands of dollars to social media "influencers," including YouTube megastar PewDiePie, to cover Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor without announcing that money had changed hands. Under the terms of the agreement, Warner Bros. is banned from failing to disclose similar deals in the future, and cannot pretend that sponsored videos and articles are actually the work of independent producers. Warner Bros.' deal with the influencers involved stated that they had to make at least one tweet or Facebook post about the game, as well as produce videos with a string of caveats to avoid showing it in a negative light. Those videos could not express negative opinions about the game or Warner Bros. itself, could not show any glitches or bugs, and must include "a strong verbal call-to-action to click the link in the description box for the viewer to go to the [game's] website to learn more about the [game], to learn how they can register, and to learn how to play the game," according to Ars Technica. Influencers were advised to disclose the video's sponsored status under YouTube's "Show More" section, but some did not, and the FTC says this would not have been enough to skirt the rules anyway, as the disclaimer would not have been visible on videos watched through Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sources.
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Warner Bros. Settles FTC Charge For Not Disclosing Payments To YouTubers For Positive Reviews

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  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wardrich86 ( 4092007 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @08:02AM (#52495883)
    Why is the onus on WB for not disclosing it? Shouldn't that be the responsibility of the person reviewing the game?
    • Because Great Money = Great Power
      Great Power = Great Responsibility

      In short WB with giving a lot of money to the YouTuber with the intention to keep it quiet. Means if the YouTuber who broke that contract can suffer heavier legal action against HP then what HP will need to suffer. When both sides are in the wrong, the one with the most money is more to blame.

      • Actually, if you look at various court cases involving the rich and powerful, usually "Great Money" means Zero Responsibility. Clearly, it's not always the case, but it's amazing (sarcasm intended) how often the rich get a slap on the wrist.

    • by ShaunC ( 203807 )

      It appears that it should be the responsibility of both parties [ftc.gov] (emphasis mine),

      The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. [...] The revised Guides also make it clear that celebrities have a duty to disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media.

      Maybe it comes down to how they define "bloggers" and "celebrities," or the FTC just decided to exercise its case-by-case discretion and go after the party that seems to be the instigator in this situtation.

  • by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @08:02AM (#52495885) Homepage
    there does seem to be some lack of ethics in gaming these days
    • by Anonymous Coward

      As well as Lack of Ethics - EVERYWHERE.

      With little to no consequences for their actions, it is open season now for doing whatever they want.

    • Well there is big money involved, so what did you expect?

    • by Desler ( 1608317 )

      People knew that long before gamergate ever existed. Games journalism has always been corrupted by money and publisher influence. Here's [ojr.org] such an article from 2003. Gamergate didn't actually expose some hidden truth that no one knew about.

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <[mashiki] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @09:13AM (#52496301) Homepage

        Gamergate didn't actually expose some hidden truth that no one knew about.

        Actually it did. See the gamejournopros [deepfreeze.it] leak [breitbart.com]. People thought there was a list, they believed there was collusion going on just like the game mags from the 90's, but had no proof. But the truth came out, and it was the same jackass who created Journolist doing the same thing to the games industry. Then people found out about the number of authors engaging in shady shit by shilling for their friends games, and other authors not disclosing that they were involved in a personal relationship with PR people see PCGamer and the author(Tyler Wilde) who had all of his stories removed about Ubisoft. And the attempted blacklisting/ostracizing of authors/publications who refused to engage in groupthink, and the massive amount of groupthink going on in said organizational group.

        They were also the group that got the disclosure rules changed for native advertising/affiliate links/etc. Meaning that shitty, shady and clickbait sites had to be open, clear, with disclosure and no more obfuscated stuff. In the end it shone light on the rest of the garbage in the industry, and did a very good job at costing shitty companies money for being very shitty companies. And continues to do so while pushing back against people who instead of making their own games/characters/stories and let them sink or swim on merit like the rest of the industry. Ensuring that established characters/games/stories aren't rewritten to fit some special snowflakes head cannon. And bringing to light assholes like polygon/kotaku/RPS/etc who are now in the Jack Thompson camp screaming about how we should really censor games because it might hurt someones feelings, and how xyz thing is sexist/racist/homophobic/etc.

    • There does seem to be some lack of ethics in *Advertising as usual*

      I never buy games based on reviews. I buy them because Gaben tells me to.

      Seriously though. Never pre-order a game. Never buy it on day 1. Always wait for review embargoes to drop, get player feedback, wait for a Steam Free Weekend. There's no need EVER to rely on any bit of information about any product that it told to you prior to its public release. Advertisers can NEVER be trusted, no matter what market they are operating in.

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      I'm expecting to see your comment modded into oblivion. The people who are so heavily invested in social justice really don't like it when things happen that disprove their narrative. Keep in mind that these same regressives are just like Jack Thompson now, demanding that things be censored to stop them from being offended. Even one of the shittiest sites on the internet(neogaf) has long since jumped on the Jack Thompson train, and developers who used to post there no longer do, calling it the place wher

  • by bazmail ( 764941 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @08:31AM (#52496033)
    ... at the Indy 500 (Captain Benjamin L. Willard - Apocalypse Now)
  • by Whatsmynickname ( 557867 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2016 @08:35AM (#52496065)

    Isn't this another form of payola [wikipedia.org]? Isn't the principal the same, where a company influences people promoting a product with money? I don't see the difference between a 1950's DJ pushing a song after getting paid by the record company while the listener doesn't know it's being promoted and a 2016 overenthusiastic Internet reviewer getting paid by the company making the product while the reader doesn't know it's being promoted. Same marketing mechanism, same ethical problem, same net result.

    Of course, you know paying online reviewers will never be made illegal because politicians are now doing this in droves! [dailykos.com]

  • Break the law, the punishment is to promise you won't do it again.

    • This happens all the time.. It's called "Probation" and it usually involves a suspension of the punishment for a crime committed with the stipulation that the punishment is reinstated if you commit another crime within the probation period.

      Where I live, 90 day probation is usually offered for most traffic tickets (assuming it's not a DUI or something serious like doing 90 in a school zone). The terms of probation require you to plead guilty, pay the fine, attend a defensive driving course and keep your n

      • You can't see the difference between "plead guilty, pay the fine, attend a defensive driving course and keep your nose clean for 90 days" and "not admit any wrongdoing and do exactly what you should have been doing in the first place"?

        • Hey, I've heard of lots of companies getting warned by the SEC for seemingly big violations of the rules. Happens all the time actually.

          I'm not sure what exactly the SEC did here, or how serious they thought the violation was, but apparently the company and the SEC discussed it and came to a mutual agreement about this. It may be the actual fines are minimal for this violation or that the SEC felt it wasn't worth going to a long expensive trial in an effort to hold the company responsible. So they struc

  • beaning using copyrights / dmca to remove bad reviews as well?

    • What's that you knew they where paid good reviews because all the other reviews especially the bad ones are taken down by dmca notices?

  • The funny thing here is that paying for this pre-release coverage was probably unnecessary for this game anyway. Shadow of Mordor was a pretty decent game, which received good reviews across a wide range of outlets and good feedback from players. It wasn't a ground-breaking game, or even a stunning example of its genre. But it was well put-together, competently executed and made good use of its licence. It basically took the open-world elements from the Ubisoft/Far Cry template, mixed them with the combat f

    • Moreover, it released at a time when the games line-up for the PS4 and XB1 was, around a year after their launch, still very disappointing. Aside from a handful of launch-exclusives, their lineups were mostly composed of games initially developed for the PS3/360 and hastily ported across to the new hardware, or outright messy failures like Watch_Dogs. Compared to these, Shadow of Mordor was a very attractive proposition.

      I played both games on my PS3. I liked Watch_Dogs, despite the lame revenge plot. It would have been nice if it had given you the ability to make some moral choices--for instance there was a "home invasion" quest where you discover a man lying unconscious/dead. It would have been nice if you could have called 9-1-1 or let his son who left a message know about it. Or if you could have taken credit for breaking up the human trafficking ring & serial killer.

      On the other hand, Shadow of Mordor was a fun ga

  • Hey gamergaters, those youtubers you love so much aren't paragons of virtue and transparency. Hell they're less ethical than formally trained journalists. You're better off reading the magazines than following some hyperactive Eurotrash guy for supposed reviews. Even Yahtzee of ZeroPunctuation isn't actually a good reviewer. "Fuck shit cock wanker bollocks yet another penis joke from a misanthrope, ramblings about those crappy UK Dizzy games, glastonbury branston pickle" may be funny, but it doesn't mak

    • > Even Yahtzee of ZeroPunctuation isn't actually a good reviewer.

      Disagree. Ben's Minecraft review [youtube.com] years ago was pure gold -- as in entertaining. At least it was more honest then a lot of other (game) reviewers.

  • People had been pointing out for years that this kind of shilling was likely going on, but it was always considered "tinfoil" until proof started coming out. It was the same way with Snowden's disclosures. Now, I'm more inclined to believe the following: Whatever devious, twisted, subversive shilling scheme you can think of... someone else is probably already doing it.
  • "don't do it again"?

    Under the terms of the agreement, Warner Bros. is banned from failing to disclose similar deals in the future

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