Facebook (owners of Instagram in the UK) has committed to a package of changes to tackle what the CMA describes as "hidden advertising" on the Instagram platform. 

This is intended to make it harder for people to post an advert or incentivised post on Instagram without clearly labelling it as such. 

Clear labelling of incentivised posts is required under consumer protection law so that people are not misled. But to date, the ASA and CMA haven't always seen eye to eye on the best way to do this, and various guidance over the years has not always been clear or practical.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been investigating hidden advertising on Instagram over concerns that too many social media influencers are posting content about businesses without making it clear when they have been paid or incentivised to do so. The CMA was concerned that Instagram was not doing enough to tackle the problem.

Instagram will now make it easier for all influencers and users – and the businesses they promote – to comply with consumer protection law when posting content.

Instagram will:

  • Prompt users to confirm if they have been incentivised in any way to promote a product or service and, if so, require them to disclose this fact clearly.
  • Extend its ‘paid partnership’ tool to all users, enabling users to display a clear label at the top of a post.
  • Use technology and algorithms designed to spot when users might not have disclosed clearly that their post is an advert and report those users to the businesses being promoted.

HOWEVER, it does not appear that the 'paid partnership' tool will include the word "Ad" or "#ad", and given that the CMA and ASA guidance doesn't consider this tool to be enough on its own, it seems that influencers will still need to include a disclosure such as "Ad" at the start of the post in order to ensure compliance.  This seems to me to be a wasted opportunity and recipe for further confusion among influencers in the future!

The full text of Instagram's commitments can be found here.

Instagram will regularly report its progress against all the commitments to the CMA.

How are brands affected?

Instagram has also committed to involving businesses in the changes by creating a tool to help them monitor how their products are being promoted on the platform.

As a result, the CMA appears to expect businesses to play their part in ensuring that posts about their brand, products and services comply with consumer protection law and to take action where appropriate, including asking the platform to remove posts if necessary.

Today’s announcement applies to all users in the UK as well as anyone globally who directs their posts towards Instagram users in the UK. 

This action is part of a wider investigation into misleading online endorsements.

CMA updates

We will report on all updates in this area. You can also find updates on the CMA’s work in this area at the CMA's Social Media Endorsements case page.