Office of Fair Trading calls for sponsored tweets to be disclosed

Sponsored tweets

Paid for online content used as a promotional tool must be clearly signalled as such, according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

In the first ruling of its kind, the OFT took action against a commercial blogging company, Handpicked Media, to ensure it made clear when positive comments about clients were sponsored, rather than user generated.

A statement from the OFT read: "In the signed undertakings, it has agreed not to engage in promotional activity unless bloggers within its network prominently disclose, in a manner unavoidable to the average consumer, that the promotion has been paid for or otherwise remunerated."

Now the Government body wants to ensure the same rules apply in the wider online community, ensuring anything from paid for blogs to promotional tweets are easily identified by consumers as sponsored content.

"'The integrity of information published online is crucial so that people can make informed decisions on how to spend their money," said Heather Clayton, senior director of the OFT's consumer group.

"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."

The move is being seen as a precursor to strengthening powers over internet advertising, which will come under the remit of Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) from March 2011.

When the new powers were confirmed, ASA chairman Lord Chris Smith welcomed the move saying: "This significant extension of the ASA's remit has the protection of children and consumers at its heart."

"We have received over 4,500 complaints since 2008 about marketing communications on websites that we couldn't deal with."

The founder of Handpicked Media, Krista Madden, told The Guardian she was happy with the ruling but said there were many more companies doing the same thing.

"There's a lot of blogging going on which doesn't have full disclosure, a lot of places," she said.

Jennifer Scott

Jennifer Scott is a former freelance journalist and currently political reporter for Sky News. She has a varied writing history, having started her career at Dennis Publishing, working in various roles across its business technology titles, including ITPro. Jennifer has specialised in a number of areas over the years and has produced a wealth of content for ITPro, focusing largely on data storage, networking, cloud computing, and telecommunications.

Most recently Jennifer has turned her skills to the political sphere and broadcast journalism, where she has worked for the BBC as a political reporter, before moving to Sky News.