Digital Dose Wednesday- Federal Trade Commission and Young Influencers

Happy Wednesday Everyone! If you’re a frequent YouTube watcher, it is easy to spot that many YouTube and social media influencers these days are linked up with companies who send them free products in return for positive reviews. As adults, most of us have a skeptical eye when viewing these advertised videos, however, it is a different story for kids, as it is often difficult for them to distinguish the difference between genuine excitement and a compelled paid-for enthusiasm.

As such, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is back at it again with overlooking these types of videos after a complaint from a campaign from Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy and Public Citizen (CCFC). This group asks the FTC to stop the tradition of allowing influencers in using these “paid for” reviews to target young audiences. Companies such as Disney and DreamWorks have partnered up with YouTube groups such as AwesomenessTV to produce these allegedly “unfair and deceptive” videos that target preteen crowds. To make matters worse, Google actually “encourages and benefits” from creating these videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids.

The CCFC argues that the fact that these videos are hosted on YouTube channels that mix both sponsored videos and regular videos makes it hard for children to separate between genuine “reviews” with paid-for advertising. These events are similar to that of the 80s and 90s where cartoons glorified toy ads before regulators moved in. As such, consumer watchdogs argue that the disclosures required on these channels are insufficient and due to the mixing of ordinary and paid-for videos there is a creation of “inherent deceptiveness” which susceptible young minds cannot distinguish against.

As of now YouTube has failed to give a coherent response. The company says that an absence of disclosure is indeed a violation of both YouTube policy and law. Although YouTube safeguards against this by not placing “paid-for” or “sponsored” content on the YouTube Kids website and Apps, the problem is when the same channel that hosts the content can post these videos on the regular YouTube website and kids often watch those videos as well. Since kid-focused influencer videos reach an audience that may have an inherent inability to distinguish between ad and review, the FTC might create a blanket ban on all paid for videos to rally its objectives.

As of now, the FTC has not responded to the complaint and it is unlikely that the CCFC will back down since the FTC, in recent times, have decided to really push for proper standards when it comes to sponsored internet content. You can read of another similar incidence in our previous articles relating to the Kardashians on Instagram.

Credit: Jessica Wong

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