Industry lukewarm on plans to make influencers disclose ads with retouching

An MP has tabled the Digitally Altered Body Image Bill to stop influencers editing paid content

Influencers could be forced to disclose when paid-for content has been retouched under a new UK law.

While the industry agrees action is needed to combat social media harms, some insiders are lukewarm on the bill’s effectiveness.

Last week Conservative MP Dr Luke Evans proposed the Digitally Altered Body Image Bill to the UK parliament. If passed the bill would require influencers to add a logo to show their body has been digitally altered.

“If someone has been paid to post a picture on social media which they have edited, or advertisers, broadcasters or publishers are making money from an edited photograph, they should be honest and upfront about it,” Dr Evans told the House of Commons.

Oliver Lewis, founder of influencer agency The Fifth, says the industry is “in danger of running at this very valuable cause half-cocked and making a similar mistake we made with ad labeling compliance.”

Lewis says the marketplace should instead be focusing on “education and engaging the ad ecosystem including platforms, agencies, brands and influencers to drive this change together and raise broader awareness of the dangers of altered body image.”

It’s the second attempt by Evans to table the bill after his first attempt in September 2020 failed to get a second read in parliament. This type of bill has already been passed in Norway, with the law coming into place in July 2022.

Following Norway’s announcement last year, Scott Guthrie, leader of the fledgling Influencer Marketing Trade Body (IMTB), raised concerns over difficulties policing the law. “It’s not always easy to determine whether a photo has been edited,” Guthrie said.

“Where do lighting adjustments or color saturation fit within the new law? Both are tried-and-tested techniques used to lighten skin tones and improve complexions, for instance,” he questioned at the time.

On the UK bill, Guthrie postulates that an unintended consequence might be influencers resorting to medical enhancements. He says it might “tempt internet celebrities and influencers to go ‘under the knife,’ turning their image manipulation into a cosmetic surgery-induced reality.”

Ogilvy’s head of influencer EMEA Rahul Titus counters Guthrie and Lewis. Titus tells The Drum: “The bill is absolutely a step in the right direction, and I hope it happens really quickly.” In fact, he says the bill should have been proposed earlier given the impact social media has on the younger generation’s mental health.

“We are all guilty of looking at social media and feeling bad about ourselves, even when we know in the back of our minds images have been edited, but that’s not enough to stop you from wanting to look a certain way,” he says.

While Titus acknowledges it will be a challenge to get “a whole generation of people to unlearn filtering and touching up,” he says the bill will force brands to review what types of influencers they use.

“Brands are thinking about the longer-term game, and do you really want to be associated with a reality star who is altering images?” he asks. “Is that the type of customer base you want?”

If the legislation is passed the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will be tasked with creating the label and defining when it should be used. The ad regulator has previously issued a warning to “avoid applying filters to photos or videos which are directly relevant to the product being advertised, and which are likely to exaggerate the effect the product is capable of achieving.”

The bill comes as the ASA is busy on its crackdown of influencers not properly labeling ads.

Elsewhere, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice are processing evidence from a consultation into body image, with results expected in the coming months.