Should influencers be prohibited from promoting certain products? The UK’s National Health Service thinks so.
The NHS’s national medical director is calling for social networks to ban celebrities from posting “irresponsible and unsafe” endorsements. It’s become commonplace to see celebrities use their status to endorse products like weight-loss aids, detox systems and gym supplements.
While most of these adhere to advertising guidelines and include #ad in their description, the fear is that the image presented is much more compelling. There’s a worry that these posts are demonstrating an unrealistic image that most of us can’t safely replicate.
The celebrities who promote these products may look the way they do not because they’ve been drinking a special tea for 12 weeks, but because they have personal trainers, private chefs and a network of people paid to keep them looking their best. Their selfies may be edited in line with their personal brand.
Is regulating influencer marketing just another part of a social network’s duty of care?
While social networks do have a duty of care to their users, the influencer marketing industry already falls under existing advertising regulations.
But will the networks act to self-regulate? It may not be in their interests. Like it or not, celebrities are some of the most important users of a network. They make headlines, bring in their massive fan bases and help the network generate revenue by making it an even more attractive place for brands to advertise.
We’ve already seen the effect discontented celebrities can have on the fortunes of a social network. Kylie Jenner contributed to dropping $1.5bn off Snapchat’s shares back in 2018 when she took to Twitter to ask if she was the only one who had abandoned the app.
Apart from the fallout this move could create with celebrity users, networks would have to decide what goes against the rules, adding to their burden of reviewing content.
The NHS medical director does raise a good point, though. But what’s needed as a first step is for networks, parents, schools and health authorities to work together to create awareness around the reality of the images we see on social media. We need to give people the tools to make judgements for themselves.