Facebook to crack down on Instagram influencers over illegal ‘hidden advertising’ after a regulator probe


The influencer marketing industry has ballooned in value over the past few years. By some analyst estimates, it is worth $10 billion and is only set to grow.


Lionel Bonaventure/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Instagram has agreed with the U.K. competition regulator to make a host of changes targeted at social media influencers over concerns about hidden advertising on the platform.

Facebook Ireland
FB,
-1.87%,
which operates Instagram in the U.K., committed to modifying its platform after intervention from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has been investigating social media influencers since 2018.

Hidden advertising is illegal in the U.K. The regulator said clear labeling of incentivized posts was required under consumer protection law, so that people weren’t misled.

The CMA has been concerned for years that “influencers” — celebrities, bloggers, and social media personalities with large platforms — have been breaking the law by not properly disclosing when they have been rewarded to endorse goods and services.

“For too long, major platforms have shied away from taking responsibility for hidden advertising on their site,” said the regulator’s chief executive, Andrea Coscelli.

Influencer marketing through social media can be subtle. It could take the form of name-dropping a swimsuit brand in a beach picture, or promoting a specific club or restaurant in a weekend party photo. 

The industry has ballooned in value over the past few years. By some analyst estimates, influencer marketing is a $10 billion business that could increase to $15 billion by 2020.

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Instagram’s changes, which the CMA calls an “important behavior shift,” will apply to all users in the U.K. and anyone around the world targeting British users.

The modifications include prompting users to confirm if they have been incentivized to promote a product — and, if so, to disclose it — as well as using algorithms designed to spot incorrect disclosures and hidden advertisements.

“This will make it much harder for people to post an advert on Instagram without labeling it as such,” the CMA said in a statement.

Instagram will also be required to hold businesses to account, through a tool for them to monitor how their products are being promoted.

“These changes mean there will be no excuse for businesses to overlook how their brands are being advertised either — making life a lot harder for those who are not upfront and honest with their followers,” Coscelli said.

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The social media giant will regularly report its progress to the CMA.

“We’re pleased to be working with the CMA on our continued efforts to help people be transparent about when they are paid to post content on Instagram,” Facebook said in a statement.

The CMA opened a consumer enforcement investigation into influencers in August 2018. In January 2019, 16 high-profile influencers made guarantees to the regulator that they would improve advertising disclosures in their social media posts.



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