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76% of Instagram creators hide ‘#ad’ disclosures from users, says a new study

A new study has found three quarters of Instagram creators hide disclosure hashtags from users

76% of Instagram influencers are burying hashtag advertising disclosures within the small print of their posts, according to a new study from affiliate network Awin.

What does the research say?

  • The study analyzed the top 100 posts for each of the approved disclosure hashtags, which are used to inform consumers which posts are advertising and which are not – these include ‘#advertisement‘, ‘#ad‘, ‘#sponsored‘, ‘#affiliate‘ and ‘#gifted‘. The study evaluated over 20 million posts on Instagram, considering whether the hashtag was visible in the original post, or was hidden by the platform’s expanding text feature.

  • Across all the hashtags measured, 76% of posts hid the disclosure from view.

  • 59% of creators put the disclosure midway through a post or caption; 24% only included it at the end, and 12% left it in the comments section of a post. Just 5% included the disclosure at the beginning of a post.

  • Certain hashtags were more hidden than others. ‘Affiliate’ was the most obscured term, while just 60% of creators hid the phrase ‘Gifted’.

  • As well as obscuring whether a post had been sponsored or not, many creators were found to hide which brand had paid for a post. According to Awin’s research, just 13% of the analyzed posts referred to a paid collaboration or partnership with a brand; even among those using the hashtags ‘#ad’ and ‘#sponsored’, only 24% and 23% referred to the brand in question, respectively.

Why is this important?

  • Rules established by the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) state that advertising labels “must be prominent enough that consumers will easily notice it”, and that “burying a label in list of hashtags ... or placing it ‘under the fold’ where consumers would need to click ‘see more’ ... won’t be sufficient”.

  • Kevin Edwards, global strategy director at Awin, said: “Disclosure is a really important part of being an influencer, not just because of the legal ramifications but also to have complete transparency with your followers. It was surprising to find that so many influencers were ‘hiding’ the disclosure of their advertisements from followers, and something we hope to combat this year.”

  • Earlier this week, Instagram parent company Facebook went on the defensive over leaked internal files, which stated the platform chose to prioritize on-platform engagement above combating misinformation and bent its own rules to allow celebrities to continue posting harmful content across its platforms.

  • The Wall Street Journal, which has published the files, also reports that Facebook knowingly designed algorithms that were found to harm the mental health of young women – though the company issued a statement denying that Instagram is “toxic”.

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