Social Media Influencers latest target of ACCC digital platforms probe

The ACCC’s Digital Platforms Services Inquiry will put social media influencers under the spotlight as part of its sixth interim report.

The ACCC will examine how companies use paid influencers to engage with and advertise to consumers, along with also considering potential consumer issues, including the way that businesses are using social media advertising services.

Businesses, consumers and other stakeholders are encouraged to respond and give feedback to the ACCC issues paper.

Jordan Guiao, a research fellow from the Centre for Responsible Technology told ABC Radio’s PM program: “At a minimum, social media influencers should be subject to the same rules and regulations as tv, radio and print… it doesn’t make sense that they are exempt from a lot of our regular rules just because they are on social media.”

Radio tackled this issue about 20 years ago during the ‘cash-for-comment’ period, with the regulator ACMA deeming some programs to be current affairs shows then applying disclosure rules to those programs to ensure secret payments were disclosed. This was later followed by the introduction of industry rules against cash-for-comment into the radio industry’s Codes of Practice. It solved the problem and enforced full disclosure, with appropriate regulatory penalties if the codes are breached.

During a recent speech to the UN in Paris, Steve Ahern, the Head of the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union’s Media Academy and founding editor of radioinfo told an international conference on media literacy and regulation:

“There are common threads in what makes up professional media:

  • A commitment to the greater good of society,
  • Internal editorial checks and balances,
  • External rules and regulations.

“These rules and regulations developed over many decades. It took decades for regulators to listen to the increasing public pressure and define what was and was not acceptable for [publishers and broadcasters], and for teachers and parents to know enough about the technology… to retain a healthy scepticism about the content and to check what they heard.

“We are doing our part. Responsible professional media are publishing their news and information on all the new platforms so that it is available in the same search threads and hashtags as influencers, manipulated content and disinformation…

“In the unregulated world of social and search media, the lack of rules means a lot of revenue that previously went to broadcasters is being siphoned away to an unregulated digital market. Because of this, many broadcasters and publishers are struggling to reinvent their business models within their highly regulated framework, while their competitors are siphoning off revenue in an unregulated environment without the same level of compliance as broadcasters and publishers. There’s something wrong with that picture and it needs to be addressed.”

The influencer industry’s self regulatory body AiMCO has developed recommendations about declaring secret influencer payments, but many influencers are not aware of the regulations or do not follow them.

The ACCC will examine competition issues involving social media services, including barriers to entry and expansion faced by new platforms, and hurdles and costs faced by consumers and businesses when they try to switch services. It will also look at consumers’ experiences with social media, including through the impact of scams and the risk of being exposed to misleading or deceptive content by businesses through social media.

“Social media has become an essential tool for many businesses as they seek to widen their customer bases and engage and communicate with consumers, and for individual consumers to connect and communicate with each other and access critical information,” ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.

Some Podcast Influencers may also fall into the unregulated advice category and should make themselves aware of the AiMCO guidelines before they come under the spotlight as well.

Last year SBS conducted a six month investigation into influencer scams, scruitinsing fake profiles and bot traffic, revealing that make marketers are falling for influencer fakes with no tangible returns on their investments, while, in contrast, responsible broadcasters and publishers continue to deliver results and measurable statistics along with real personalities who continue to influence their audiences.

Policy think tank The Australia Institute also last year called for more regulation in this area, citing its report that ” identifies the double-standards between the rules for traditional advertisers and individuals who leverage their personal networks to promote brands on social media.

Only two self-regulating codes manage the profitable influencer industry in Australia, where individuals can charge up to $20,000 per post. The research also highlights influencers providing dangerous health and financial advice, despite their lack of qualifications and expertise in these areas.

“Social media influencers are profiting while spreading misinformation and shoddy advice online” said Jordan Guiao.


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