The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee has called for tougher regulation of “influencer culture” in light of the potential harm for children, noting their heightened vulnerability to embedded advertising.
Arguing that the influencer boom has outpaced advertising regulations, the DCMS expressed concern over the exploitation of young influencers and the children who follow them. The report highlights the dangers of disinformation and harmful content, noncompliance with advertising rules, and the privacy and security risks associated with targeting children.
DCMS Committee Chairman Julian Knight warned against “playing catch-up” on regulation, urging the government to “reshape the rules to keep pace with the changing digital landscape” in order to protect social media users. “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,” he added.
The recommendations include commissioning a comprehensive study into the UK’s influencer ecosystem, and having the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) strengthen disclosure standards for online ads that target children. The Online Safety Bill should also encompass the specific nature of harms faced by influencers, the Committee advised.
Under the influence
The influencer market is booming, both for young viewers and those seeking a career in the industry. Out of 511 British children, more than 32 percent said they would consider becoming an influencer. As for viewership, a 2021 Ofcom study suggested that half of children watch vloggers or influencers on YouTube. The report raised concerns around consuming this type of content at an age when digital literacy is still in development.
On the influencer side, the report observed the growing market for child influencer content on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. As increasing numbers of young people earn money via online sponsorship deals through accounts managed by parents, MPs identified the risk of children being exploited to make money. In producing lucrative content, influencers were said to be unfairly compensated and lacking in employment protections.
Regulators are also ineffective in ensuring influencers label “paid for” content, according to the report. In 2020, the ASA found that only 35 percent of 24,000 UK marketing posts on Instagram were clearly labelled as adverts. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) confirmed that influencer compliance rates were unacceptably low. The ASA – which is currently not allowed to issue non-compliance fines – said it would take the recommendations under advisement.