The new scammers

Product placement and the influence of prominent figures have become significant sources of additional income within the realm of social media platforms. Even Netflix has utilized the strategy of product placement in their TV series and movies to bolster revenue and generate cash flow. However, the practice of hidden advertising has escalated to a point where it can be considered illegal, leading to severe penalties. A recent example of such controversy has emerged on TikTok, specifically within the realm of makeup. For those unfamiliar with the beauty guru community, these influencers are often associated with messiness and scandal. They have faced criticism for various reasons, including scams involving their own cosmetic lines and promoting products under questionable circumstances. In essence, this online community has gained a reputation that is far from pristine.

Nevertheless, the most recent scandal may prove to be a tipping point, and the platform itself bears a significant portion of the blame. The lack of proper regulation and oversight within TikTok has contributed to the proliferation of deceptive practices and unethical behavior. The center of this controversy revolves around Mikayla Nogueira, a TikTok beauty influencer known for her straightforward and honest opinions about new products. Through short videos on her account, Mikayla shares her thoughts on various aspects such as pricing, and quality, and even compares high-end cosmetics to drugstore alternatives. Her commitment and genuine opinions quickly garnered her a large following not only on TikTok but also on other platforms like Instagram and YouTube. However, as her following grew, the authenticity of her opinions came under scrutiny.

During a review of a new product from a major makeup brand, fans noticed that the video had been edited, and the results she claimed to achieve with the product were, in fact, misleading. Many fans expressed their disappointment, especially when they noticed that Mikayla had tagged the brand of the product in the video, suggesting it was a paid promotion. The issue arose because she did not explicitly disclose it as an advertisement.

Photo by ABDALLA M on Unsplash

On any platform, it is mandatory to inform users when content is advertising or part of a promotional arrangement. While this may seem insignificant to some, this viral incident raised questions about similar undisclosed paid promotions across the internet. As a result, users worldwide began urging influencers, both within and beyond the beauty guru community, to disclose which products or services featured in their content were part of a marketing strategy.

The guidelines that influencers and streamers must adhere to are relatively straightforward. Even the American Government has created a digital pamphlet titled “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers” to provide guidance in this regard. Essentially, it is crucial to clearly indicate when content is an advertisement, ensuring that viewers can easily recognize it as a paid promotion and understand the nature of the endorsement. These instructions should not be taken lightly, as the penalties for non-compliance can be astronomical.

A notable example occurred a couple of years ago when Kim Kardashian, the infamous celebrity, was fined 1.3 million USD by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to disclose a paid promotion, despite receiving $250,000 for it. Unfortunately, rather than serving as a deterrent, it appears that more influencers are engaging in non-disclosure of paid promotions.

In our opinion, this trend has two significant consequences: diminished trust and damaged reputation. While it may be tempting to think that it is solely the influencers’ responsibility and their reputation should not concern us, the larger concern lies in the impact these situations have on the already tarnished reputation of social media platforms in general.

We are well aware of the issues surrounding disinformation, echo chambers, and similar phenomena that have raised questions about the reliability of these platforms. The addition of undisclosed advertisements exacerbates these problems. It is worth considering the implications the next time you scroll through Instagram, as consumerism becomes entangled in these controversies.

Currently, there have been no apparent consequences for the influencers who have been called out by users, at least to our knowledge. The question arises: Should the platforms themselves take action instead of waiting for government or judicial interventions? After all, these cases also affect the platforms directly. Therefore, why is TikTok not penalizing content that fails to comply with disclosure rules?

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