Summary of Action
In March 2017, the Federal Trade Commission notified more than 90 social media influencers and marketers of their legal obligation to clearly and conspicuously disclose influencers’ relationships with brands when promoting products or services on social media platforms, such as Instagram. At least 21 of these influencers ignored the FTC’s disclosure guidance and subsequently received a second letter from the Commission reminding them, yet again, of their legal obligations and highlighting additional potentially deceptive social media posts.
Since then, TINA.org conducted a review of those 21 influencers’ Instagram accounts and found that all but one have continued to mislead their fan base, which range in size from just over 750,000 followers to more than 32 million followers, by refusing to consistently and appropriately disclose their material connections to the brands they are promoting.
Specifically, over a 20 month period (May 2017 to Dec. 2018), TINA.org collected more than 1,400 examples of the 20 influencers promoting more than 500 companies. Each of the examples fail to meet the FTC’s clear and conspicuous standard for disclosing material connections to the promoted brands – with issues ranging from a complete lack of disclosure to using inconspicuous or unclear disclosures such as placing #ad or #sponsored “below the fold” (i.e., not visible unless a user clicks on “more” to expand the caption box) and/or relying on Instagram’s built-in disclosure tool (which is separated from both the image and the caption).
As a result of these findings, TINA.org sent a complaint letter to the FTC on March 4, 2019 urging it to expand its investigation into the marketing tactics used by these social media influencers and put an end to their ongoing and pervasive consumer deception.