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Online Safety Influencers ASA

UK government mulls clampdown on influencer advertising that targets young people


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

May 9, 2022 | 4 min read

The UK government is testing the waters for a clampdown on influencer advertising.

Mateus Campos influencer

The UK government is attempting to curb the potential harm to children from online interactions / Mateus Campos

An announcement from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) stated that, in light of the potential for harm that comes from influencer marketing having a deleterious effect on young people’s mental health, it wants the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to double down on enforcing its rules.

It highlighted the potential harm that comes from influencers’ misbehavior on social platforms, particularly where that behavior intersects with particularly young audiences.

Julian Knight, committee chairman of the DCMS, said: “If you dig below the shiny surface of what you see on screen you will discover an altogether murkier world, where both the influencers and their followers are at risk of exploitation and harm online.

“The explosion in influencer activity has left the authorities playing catch-up, and exposed the impotence of advertising rules and employment protections designed for a time before social media was the all-encompassing behemoth it has become today.”

It follows attempts from regulators including the ASA and platforms themselves to ensure that influencer marketing practices are consistently applied.

The ASA relaunched its ‘name and shame’-based strategy of spotlighting influencers who failed to disclose sponsorships in June last year. It periodically updates that list as more influencers fall foul of the rules; the Competition and Markets Authority has stated that influencer compliance rates with UK advertising regulations are still unacceptably low.

The ASA said: “We will consider carefully the recommendations in the DCMS Committee Report on Influencer Culture that relate to advertising.”

The UK government is partway through the process of designing and implementing an Online Harms Bill. It intersects with social media marketing and influencers when it comes to protecting the mental health of young people online: the UK government wants regulator Ofcom to have greater powers to censure and fine any platform that fails to protect its younger users.

According to research from Ofcom, up to half of children said they watched vloggers or YouTube influencers last year. That is probably a conservative estimate, demonstrating that younger audiences have at least the potential to be exposed to content that could potentially harm their mental health.

Last month Unilever stated its intention to refrain from advertising to or working with influencers who target any children under the age of 16; Ogilvy recently announced it would not work (for the most part) with any models who overly edited their images. Both announcements appear to have pre-empted this latest push from the government to ensure that advertising legislation catches up with the modern reality of online behavior.

Critics of the Online Harms Bill note that its sweeping approach is likely to fail to address specific issues, and is based in turn on an outdated notion of what internet culture looks like. As a result, the specific moves from the DCMS to place responsibility and powers on regulators such as the ASA are likely a move to spread the responsibility around. The extent to which platforms are themselves responsible for enforcing rules related to children is also likely to be a contentious point, as they have vigorously resisted regulatory oversight in the past.

Online Safety Influencers ASA

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