[WASHINGTON, DC] – Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Representative Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) released the statement below after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced new guidelines for online influencers that endorse products or advertise to children:
“Deceptive advertising is an illegal act, not an acceptable business model. Paid endorsements and hidden advertising products to kids are inherently manipulative and can have a long-term, harmful effect on children’s wellbeing. Marketers, online influencers, social media celebrities, and their financial sponsors are now on notice: exploiting children and their parents is a violation of the law and you will be held accountable. This must be the beginning, not the end, of the Commission’s efforts to put an end to this highly lucrative and problematic online activity.”
Blumenthal, Markey, and Eshoo have raised significant concerns regarding the lack of oversight in protection children from deceptive online marketing. In December, the lawmakers wrote FTC Chairman Joseph Simons urging the agency to take immediate, aggressive action against YouTube influencers who are deceptively and unfairly advertising to children as young as two years old through their content. A copy of that letter is available here.
As advertisers spend tens of thousands of dollars per paid post and video on popular YouTube channels, marketing to children by online influencers has become a booming field bringing in tens of millions in endorsements. Eager to exploit this new social media gold rush, many advertisers and sponsors have thrown basic ethics and the law out the window, disregarding even the minimal standards adopted to protect children.
A study by ad watchdog group, truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org) found that the popular “kidfluencer” YouTube channel Ryan ToysReview, who pulled in an estimated $22 million in earnings for 2018, referenced at least one product recommended for children under the age of five in nearly 90 percent of videos reviewed. While some videos did disclose a sponsorship, an overwhelming majority did not.