I recently wrote about an Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announcement in early September that 21 Instagram influencers were sent warning letters for their failure to properly disclose paid promotional posts they released from their Instagram accounts. The warning letters served as a follow-up to educational letters sent to over 90 social media influencers and brands back in April. Now, the FTC has released the names behind the 21 Instagram accounts required to respond by Sept. 30. Among the most notable are: supermodel Naomi Campbell, ‘Modern Family‘ actress Sophia Vergara, actress and singer Vanessa Hudgens, ‘Pretty Little Liars‘ stars Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson and Shay Mitchell, and on-again-off-again ‘Kardashian‘ clan member Scott Disick.
Social media influencers have long monetized their massive, and loyal, followings by working with brands and advertising agencies to promote products and services. It’s an often well-understood exchange between the influencer and their audience. However, proper disclosure of advertisements requires influencers and brands maintain an awareness of government regulations. The FTC is stepping in to ensure consumers are protected.
“The FTC staff believes that tagging a business is an endorsement of the business,” the FTC Division of Advertising Practices associate director Mary K. Engle writes multiple times in the warning letters sent on Sept. 6. The FTC notes a failure of the influencers to include a disclosure as to any “material connection” with the brands tagged or mentioned in each of the example posts included in the warning letters.
Among the FTC-flagged posts are two from rapper-producer Akon, addressed in the FTC letters by his full legal name Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam. Akon appears to have tagged the Swiss watch brand Ratel Geneve in professional photographs taken while wearing their watches. The descriptions of the photos lack any reference to the watch company. By using the “Tag People” feature of the platform, the only way a follower would see the watch company mentioned is by tapping on the photo and seeing the brand’s account name appear.
In two of the letters, the FTC notes an issue with the advertisement notices not appearing early enough in the text block for the posts. “[C]onsumers viewing posts in their Instagram streams on mobile devices typically see only the first three lines of a longer post unless they click ‘more,'” writes Engle in a warning letter address to Lilly Ghalichi, star of Bravo‘s Shahs of Sunset reality television show and licensed California attorney. The FTC notes that “many consumers may not click the ‘more’ [button]” and that any disclosures should be within those three lines immediately visible on mobile devices.
The complete list of celebrities hit with FTC warning letters includes: Farrah Abraham, Akon, Amber Rose, Ashley Benson, Naomi Campbell, Ciara, Scott Disick, Tiona Fernan, Lilly Ghalichi, Lucy Hale, Chelsea Houska, Vanessa Hudgens, Jeni “JWoww” Farley, Vanessa Lachey, Lindsey Lohan, Shay Mitchell, Rach Parcell, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Lisa Rinna, Sofia Vergara, and Dorothy Wang.
The full versions of the letters sent by the FTC have been compiled in a publicly available PDF.