What would you do in this situation? A reviewer friend of mine wrote a review for a toy that she received vicariously through the creator. When she sent the review to the creator, it was immediately marked with a red pen. Slashes through a paragraph that used simple adjectives like “drag” to describe what the silicone was like in use. She was given instructions to use different wording and how to better explain it, since “drag” is “offensive”. After my friend wrote back stating that she felt like any alterations would make her feel like she wasn’t being honest with her readers, the creator shot back a threat that included the words “LA lawyer”. I looked over the creator’s site, and the product’s site, and there is nothing stating that mentioning or writing anything about the product would result in legal action. The creator/producer of the product did say in an email, prior to the product being shipped to the reviewer, that the creator doesn’t give samples without the power to proofread it before hand. The creator/producer asks that the reviewer remove anything the creator/producer finds unflattering to the product. What I gather from that, is that my friend, the reviewer/blogger, agreed to the proofreading. The creator doesn’t demand for the power to copy-edit the review, instead the creator asks for things noted to be removed.
Now, that aside, here’s where it really gets interesting. The creator also put slashes through the Personal Experience section. In my opinion, this is the most important part of any review. The creator didn’t want any mention of whether or not my friend got off (achieved orgasm). The creator stated that she wanted the product to remain “cute, clean and classy”. Again, I looked at the website for both the creator and product. THERE ARE TITS EVERYWHERE. In the rotating header there are tits. Then why, oh why, would an orgasm (or lack of) with the mention of a clitoris be a “tarnish” to the product or “not classy”?
Threatening a writer or reviewer with legal action after they send you an email with the attached review for you to proofread, is ridiculous. Especially if the writer was wanting to give the product FOUR STARS OUT OF FIVE. Telling my friend that any kind of email back would be immediately seen as harassment, is ludicrous. It’s one sided bullying. Granted now that my friend was told that she did need to send it to the creator before hand to be proofread before it going live. In a way I can mildly see how a creator would be upset IF it were a loathsome review, but still that’s no reason to infringe on someone’s Freedom of Speech. Especially since the creator required the power to proofread, not copy-edit.
Now for the fun part. FTC Guidelines. Section 251.1 a) states “Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser. Furthermore, an endorsement may not convey any express or implied representation that would be deceptive if made directly by the advertiser.”1 See that? MUST. In the old 1980 version of the FTC Guidelines, the writer had to put in that “results not typical” (basically “results may vary”). That was done away with in ’09 when there was a 4-0 vote for the change2.
Here’s another one that is right below the last one. Section 251.1 b) “The endorsement message need not be phrased in the exact words of the endorser, unless the advertisement affirmatively so represents. However the endorsement may not be presented out of context or reworded as to distort in any way the endorser’s opinion or experience with the product.”3 Um, so what you’re saying is that the creator/advertiser can’t reword what a writer is saying if it conflicts with their experience? Hmmm. Makes you wonder why an advertiser would think they could make notes on someone’s review and then threaten them with legalities. Screw that. They weren’t notes, they were demands.
I looked into some of the laws over in the UK, since the creator is located there, thinking that perhaps that they might be different. I mean, there must be a reason that a creator/producer of an internationally sold product thinks that they can stifle the words of a free-willed, 1st amendment protected, reviewer. There’s not. The ASA’s CAP code clearly states in the rules of Misleading Advertising in section 3.3, “ Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner. Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means.”4 So why is this creator/producer thinking that they can pick up a red pen? Where in the US’ FTC Guidelines or the UK’s ASA CAP code, does it say, “Advertiser has complete control over endorser’s words and/or opinion on products”? I’m sorry, am I the only one seeing that this is completely insane? Fabricating a lawsuit (yeah, the creator used the word “sue” in the one-sided correspondence), just because the blogger wants to be completely honest?
On top of all of this, the creator stoops to the level of petty insults. Calling my friend’s reviews “boring”, and stating that the creator has “dealt with more famous bloggers than you”. How does one deal with a blogger? Then the creator proceeds to call my friend a “rogue blogger”. A rogue blogger, huh? Is she referring to the fact that bloggers have free-will? Having a brain and a sense of duty in regards to providing honest and thorough work, makes you a rogue blogger? She might as well be throwing a fit, screaming “Anarchy! This person won’t do as I tell them!”. Talk about childish and lacking in all sense of propriety. Then comes the lowest of the low. The creator goes as far as to threaten my friend with slander. If my friend were to publish the review on her blog, the creator threatened to inform the company that shipped the toy to be reviewed (since the review would show on their site and creator’s), and all of the creator’s US and Canada based clients of my friend’s “unprofessionalism”.
It’s one thing that the creator is trying to stifle my friend’s First Amendment rights (good luck with that, by the way), but to immediately threaten a blogger who says no? Talk about making a blogger feel insecure or scared to publish anything honest, or opinionated. An honest opinion and honest experiences, are the things that make a review, a review. Try and stifle that and you don’t have a review, you have an advertisement. If you’re “hiring” someone to write an advertisement, you should promptly lay that out, and discuss what needs to be discussed. If a reviewer is contacting you to review an item, don’t assume you’re going to get glitter and unicorns. You’re going to get the truth. The readers are going to get the truth.
No blogger, writer, or any form of media should ever be censored. Regardless of what you think you are entitled to have written, it is still the work of another person. If that person is in a legally binding contract that states that they are paid to write for you, and if you are not pleased with said work, then you have a gag-order in place. This is not the case here. Here we have an honest blogger, who even writes a positive review about the product, being intimidated by a sex toy creator/producer. It is unacceptable.
The reason we review is to get the truth out there about a product. Our experiences are truths, our opinions are truths, we are sex bloggers and we will not be silenced. Censorship is oppression. We will not be oppressed. You think you can silence one of us? Another will take their place and others will follow suit. We follow the laws that are in place, you do not. If you attack us, we will not back down. This is not a threat but a promise. We accept products in exchange for fair and honest reviews. We will not compromise our integrity to suit your ideal image. Down with the Red Pen.
For more information on laws pertaining to reviewers/bloggers,
check out Epiphora’s Can online reviewers be sued for defamation?.