So far, the FTC has sent a few batches of warning letters to companies that overstate how their products can combat the virus, including a set that was released Tuesday in addition to 27 letters sent in the past two months with the Food and Drug Administration — although few, if any, appear to involve influencers directly.
Michael Ostheimer, an attorney with the FTC’s advertising practices division, said in an email that the agency is limited in how much it can crack down on misinformation spread by influencers, noting that unless the account is selling a product or service, it’s outside of the agency’s jurisdiction.
One problem with influencer posts is that it can be difficult to differentiate authentic content from sponsored content, even when a hashtag, like #ad or #sponsored, is included, said Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth in Advertising, which has previously lobbied the FTC to examine influencer ad disclosures on Instagram.
“One of the reasons why social media influencer marketing works so well is because it really does exude authenticity, and most influencers try and promote goods and services using the same kind of content and visuals that they do in their everyday life,” Patten said. “So it can be impossible just by viewing the post to know whether I’m looking at an ad or not, and in these times of pandemic, that can really make a huge difference.”