Misleading social media ads can have 'damaging' impact on young people

Reality TV stars Sophie Kasaei and Millie Mackintosh had to remove ads from their social media profiles. Credit: ITV Wales/PA Images

There is growing concern about misleading adverts targeting young people on social media.

Influencers, people who are paid to represent brands and advertise products on social media, have to follow strict rules when they post an ad.

  • Brands, celebrities and influencers must follow local laws and UK businesses and influencers are asked to comply with CMA and ASA guidance on sponsored social media posts.
  • Advertisements on Instagram must show clearly that they are an ad, this can be done by adding '#ad' onto the description of a post.

The highest earning influencer is Kylie Jenner. She earns $1 million per sponsored post, according to HopperHQ's 2018 Instagram Rich List.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé are in the top five for the highest earners per post.

Kylie Jenner earns $1 million per sponsored post. Credit: PA

Jessica Davies from Aberystwyth is an ex-glamour model who is now a blogger and influencer.

I'm on social media all the time. It kind of makes me compare my life to other people and all that and I feed into it as well so it's kind of a love hate relationship.

– Jessica Davies, Blogger
of 12-15 year olds said they sometimes feel pressure to look popular on social media, Ofcom 2018
of 12-15 year old girls said they feel pressure to look popular all the time, Ofcom 2018
Jessica Davies describes herself as a 'social media addict'. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Jessica said certain products influencers advertise can be "damaging", including those which claim to help with weight loss or suppressing appetite.

At the moment there's this debate about what's being sold on social media in terms of like the flat tummy teas and detox teas... I just think there comes a time that you have to take responsibility for what you're selling...

For me to post something, it's the easiest money you can make in this day and age, an Instagram post that we all do everyday. But I feel like there's a certain responsibility to post what reflects you.

– Jessica Davies
Millie Mackintosh had to remove a soft drinks ad, which was not clearly labelled. Credit: PA

A number of reality TV stars have come under fire for misleading Instagram posts. Celebrities including Sophie Kasaei and Marnie Simpson from Geordie Shore, Louise Thompson and Millie Mackintosh from Made in Chelsea and Olivia Buckland from Love Island, have had rulings against them for breaching the rules.

In 2017, an Instagram post on TV personality Sophie Kasaei’s, included text which stated “#ad Tummy Game Plan? You know it’s @flattummytea. Nothings [sic] gonna get you flat the same as this tea will. The excuses are in the past, much like the water weight I used to have”.

The ASA received a complaint about the post. It approached the company, who said they were not aware of the fact their advertising would need to be compliant with EU regulation. The company also told ASA they did not hold scientific data to support their claims that the tea ingredients could help with water weight loss.

The ASA told Flat Tummy Tea that the ad could not appear again in its current form, that they had to remove the claims, and ensure their future ads did not make health claims which were not listed as authorised on the EU Register.

One of Sophie Kasaei's adverts received a complaint. Credit: PA

You have to observe rules that we police very strictly on things like unhealthy body image. So unhealthily thin models are a real problem.

If advertisers make claims about products which are unlicensed medical claims then advertising will be banned for that as well and there's also something about emotional wellbeing as well.

A good example is cosmetic surgery advertisers cannot advertise their products in a way that makes them look as if they are part of an aspirational lifestyle or trivial. If they do, we will ban the ad.

– Craig Jones, Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
of 12-15 year olds said social media makes them feel happy at least sometimes, Ofcom 2018
Influencers earn money by advertising products on social media. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Victoria Fox, an influencer and make-up artist from Cardiff, warns that people need to be aware of misleading posts online.

There's a lot of celebrities that are promoting herbal teas and slimming tablets but have actually gone to Turkey or somewhere abroad and had liposuction.

– Victoria Fox

We want people on Instagram to be transparent about when they are paid to post. Last year we introduced the branded content tool to make it clear when commercial relationships are taking place.

The tool allows influencers to add a "Paid partnership with" sub-header on posts and stories — which offers more transparency.

– Instagram spokesperson

Last month, the CEO of Instagram told CBS This Morning, the platform will test hiding the “like” count on posts.

Adam Mosseri told the American TV programme that the company is "rethinking the whole experience" of Instagram with "wellbeing" as its top priority.

Jessica tries to show different aspects of her life on social media. Credit: Jessica Davies

Your Instagram's a highlight reel really of your life and my life isn't really me on a photoshoot or on the beach somewhere abroad. It's usually me and my friends so I think it's good to have a good balance of that.

– Jessica Davies, Blogger
Credit: ITV Cymru Wales