Social media influencers must declare if posts are paid: FNC

Jasmine Al Kuttab/Abu Dhabi
Filed on April 25, 2018 | Last updated on April 25, 2018 at 06.45 am
Social media influencers must declare if posts are paid: FNC

The call came after a heated discussion over the role of social media and unlawful brand endorsements.

A number of social media influencers do not clearly mention if their posts are "paid advertisements" or a "personal post", the Federal National Council (FNC) heard on Tuesday.

FNC members are calling for "closer observation" over content shared by social media influencers, particularly those on Instagram and Snapchat. 

The call came after a heated discussion over the role of social media and unlawful brand endorsements, at the FNC headquarters. 

Members raised their concerns to Dr Sultan Jaber, Minister of State and chairman of the board of the National Media Council (NMC). They stressed that social media influencers, including many "fashionistas", who do not notify the public whether their posts are paid, will soon face potential penalties when the NMC's new electronic media regulations are enforced by the end of June. 

In February this year, the NMC announced new rules for the use of electronic and social media platforms, which aim to make them more reliable for millions of users in the UAE.

The rules stipulate that any UAE-based social media users who take payments in return for promoting brands, goods and services, must take a licence by the end of June 2018, and those who fail to comply with the new regulations will face fines of up to Dh5,000 and having their social media accounts and related websites or blogs shut down, besides an official warning from the government entity. 

The regulations also state that an influencer should distinguish between advertisement content and purely personal ones.

"This is a business, just like any other, and these social media influencers must be transparent, especially since many of them have hundreds of thousands of followers who trust their judgment," said FNC member Hamad Al Rahoomi. "If you post a video promoting a cafe, you need to inform your followers that you are being paid for it, before being paid." Al Rahoomi pointed out that awareness is crucial when it comes to ensuring that social media followers and consumers' rights are protected. "This is part of consumer protection, yet we still find many social media influencers not abiding by the regulations."

Need to regulate influencers

Al Rahoomi stressed that even for non-paid content, influencers need to ensure their posts are constructive and ethical. "Our local TV channels broadcast proper content, yet many influencers are posting obscene and unethical content online, which are viewed by anyone, including minors.

"There needs to be a level of ethical censorship," he urged.

FNC member Naama Al Sharhan asked the minister about the government's plans regarding "negative social media influencers."

"Today, social media is the concern of every family in our society. If it's unregulated, it could lead to disastrous consequences and affect the future generations. We are facing the threat of negative influencers."

The minister agreed with the member's concerns; however, he stressed that since the regulations were announced in February, there has been ongoing communication between the government and the influencers about their content. "I agree with you on the dangers of social media and the extent of consequences that it could have on our society and our security," added the minister.

Al Sharhan stressed the need for a strict law to maintain the country's respectable image. "In this day and age, social media content spreads quickly; that's why we need a strict law to maintain a respectable image.

"We don't want people promoting nonsense online, which goes against the UAE's principles and ethics - such as a 'fashionista' posting pictures of herself in reclining poses.

"What is the meaning of this?" she asked.

Al Sharhan pointed out that the values instilled by the UAE's leaders are being disrespected by these influencers, who are posting obscene and unethical content. "These jobless people who call themselves influencers, who or what are they really influencing anyway?"

During the session, the Council also stressed the need for the NMC to have a closer oversight over publications that could disseminate false news, which might harm the nation's interest.

According to a report by an FNC committee, the former lack of a law that regulates electronic media has led to weak legal oversight of social media content, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube posts.

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