Friday 16 October 2020 1:39 pm

Instagram vows to tackle hidden celebrity ads after watchdog probe

Instagram has pledged to do more to prevent hidden advertising on its website and app amid concerns that influencers are failing to make it clear when they have been paid to promote products.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into Instagram over its failure to tackle the problem of hidden advertising.

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Facebook, which owns Instagram, today committed to a package of changes that will make it post an advert without labelling it as such.

As part of the reforms, the social media platform will prompt users to confirm if they have been incentivised in any way to promote a product or service and, if so, require them to disclose this fact clearly.

It will also extend its ‘paid partnership’ labelling tool to all users and use algorithms designed to identify and report posts that may contain hidden ads.

The watchdog also called on businesses to use a new tool to monitor how their products are being promoted and to take action where appropriate.

“For too long, major platforms have shied away from taking responsibility for hidden advertising on their site,” said CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli.

“So, this commitment to tackle hidden adverts and overhaul the way people post on Instagram – making it difficult for users to ignore the law – is a welcome step forward.”

The measures form part of a wider crackdown on social media advertising. Last year more than a dozen celebrities, including Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora, pledged to clean up their act on social media and make it clear when they have been paid to post.

Today’s announcement applies to all users in the UK as well as anyone globally who directs their posts towards Instagram users in the UK.

Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, partner at law firm Lewis Silkin, said: “Any attempt to clarify and simplify the disclosure or ‘labelling’ requirements is welcome.

“A clear set of guidelines helps everyone, from influencers to brands to users of the platform.”

But he said it was essential the CMA collaborated with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ensure a consistent approach to the issue of hidden advertising.

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“It is important that the ASA not be cut out of the CMA’s discussions with Instagram on this, because if the ASA decides that its standards, requirements or approach will be different from those of the CMA, this will not solve anything,” he said.

“This will lead to further confusion among influencers who for the most part are doing their best to understand and comply with the rules and ever-evolving guidance in this area.”

A Facebook spokesperson said: “We’re pleased to be working with the CMA on our continued efforts to help people be transparent about when they are paid to post content on Instagram.”