The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the government’s consumer protection agency, says it sent warning letters to 90 Instagram users and marketers, reminding them that sponsored Instagram posts must be clearly identified as sponsored or paid content. The FTC did not release the identities of the Instagram users it warned, but said they included “celebrities, athletes and other influencers.” There was no indication if any of the influencers were also professional photographers. The agency also said that the action was motivated by complaints from the non-profit consumer rights organization Consumer Citizen, and the research of FTC regulators.
One of the issues, FTC said in a press release, is that many users are putting sponsorship disclosures at the end of a long caption, effectively hiding that information from viewers. “Consumers viewing Instagram posts on mobile devices typically see only the first three lines of a longer post unless they click ‘more,’ which many may not do,” said the agency’s statement, which was issued on April 19. “The staff’s letters informed recipients that when making endorsements on Instagram, they should disclose any material connection above the ‘more’ button.” The FTC also said that users are slipping their sponsored post indication into a string of hashtags, making it hard to identify.
The step suggests that some marketers and Instagram influencers, who get paid to post on behalf of brands, have not followed the Endorsement Guides the FTC issued in 2015. In those guides, the FTC said that sponsored social media posts needed to be clearly identified as such, but did not have to use specific language. According to the guides, “What matters is effective communication, not legalese. A disclosure like ‘Company X sent me [name of product] to try, and I think it’s great’ gives your readers the information they need.”
The statement also reiterated that FTC isn’t just concerned with whether fees were paid to an influencer. What matters, it says, is if there’s a “material connection” between the influencer and whatever she or he is endorsing. “A material connection could be a business or family relationship, monetary payment, or the gift of a free product,” the FTC wrote.
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