Influencer Industry Must Be Regulated, Say MPs

The UK regulatory environment has failed to keep up with the rise of influencer culture, resulting in inadequate protections for children exposed to online advertising and leaving influencers themselves without appropriate employment protections, a new report from MPs has found.

Child influencers are at risk of exploitation, while compliance with online advertising rules is “unacceptably low”, found the report from the Departure for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Influencer content, in which individuals posting on social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube build commercial and non-commercial relationships with large viewer bases, is increasingly popular with children, the committee noted.

An Ofcom study found that in 2021 up to half of children said they watched vloggers or YouTube influencers.

Influencer rules

And of the 511 British children surveyed as part of the inquiry, more than 32 percent said they would consider becoming an influencer.

Children, parents and schools must be given more support in developing young people’s media literacy, while the Advertising Standards Agency should strengthen disclosure standards for adverts online targeting children, the study recommended.

It also calls for a code of conduct for influencer marketing to be commissioned.

The booming industry around child influencers has raised concerns that children are being exploited by their aprents to capitalise on the lucrative market.

Content posted about the child can affect their privacy and bring security risks, MPs noted.

The report urged the government to conduct a thorough study into the influencer ecosystem so that it can be properly regulated.

Enforcement powers

The Advertising Standards Agency should be given more power to enforce advertising rules – such as the ability to levy fines – and should close loopholes.

“The rise of influencer culture online has brought significant new opportunities for those working in the creative industries and a boost to the UK economy,” said committee chair Julian Knight.

“However, as is so often the case where social media is involved, 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.

“Child viewers, who are still developing digital literacy, are in particular danger in an environment where not everything is always as it seems, while there is a woeful lack of protection for young influencers who often spend long hours producing financially lucrative content at the direction of others.”

He added that “inaction” has left digital regulations behind the times.

‘Lights, camera, inaction’

“This report has held a mirror up to the problems which beset the industry, where for too long it has been a case of lights, camera, inaction.

“It is now up to the government to reshape the rules to keep pace with the changing digital landscape and ensure proper protections for all.”

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

The Competition and Markets Authority told the investigation that influencer compliance rates with UK advertising regulations are unacceptably low.

A 2020 monitoring exercise by the ASA found that only 35 percent of 24,000 marketing posts on the Instagram accounts of 122 UK-based influencers were clearly labelled as adverts.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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