Diet tea, weight loss shakes, appetite suppressants, detox juices and magic fat burning pills. All endorsed by your favourite TV personality, someone you like, you feel like you know… so you trust. As an adult, it is a little easier to hot-foot through the online land mines of modern-day diet culture – but only a little. Still, sometimes you can find yourself hovering over the ‘buy now’ button, wondering if that skinny detox tea is really the reason your fave Jungle Celebrity lost so much weight and is now on the cover of Cosmo.
Now, let’s imagine you are a 13 year old. Every reality star, presenter and TV personality who you know is promoting products with astounding before and afters. You’re at that impressionable, difficult age where you have no confidence in ‘you’ yet…. but what if these products did actually do what your beloved stars are telling you? How amazing would that be? The captive audience of digital natives and mobile addicts scrolling through products like this for huge percentages of the day is alarming. So allowing influencers to promote diet products and cosmetic procedures so flippantly… well, is it ethical advertising?
It should probably be pointed out to begin with that Instagram’s rules suggest a minimum age of 13 for their social network. However, I am sure many of us know teenagers/children far under that age using the platform – but as long as they’re just uploading photos of their own & following their own real-life friends and have their profile listed as private, that’s ok right? Wrong.
With recent studies suggesting that on average users spend 53 minutes per day are spent scrolling Instagram alone, it’s imperative we really consider the content that is being digested . And, it is no doubt under 18s are consuming content for much longer periods of time then what is said to be ‘average’.
For years celebrities, TV personalities, reality stars and the social media famous have been partnering with various companies to promote their products. This could be anything from a new handbag to the latest car – but often, it is the inbetween. It’s be detox teas promising fast weight loss, super shakes credited as the core reason for fat shed, diet pills suppressing appetite… or the Kylie Jenner lip-filler movement, celebs endorsing boob jobs or liposuction.
Yet, people have their own brains right? Surely they can see that the influencer posting the product must be benefitting (££)? Surely they can tell that the product in question isn’t really going to help them lose 10lbs in one day? Surely?
Well… put it like this. The influencers are people with a large following. They have power, influence and money. They’re often people you aspire to be more like. They’re role models. They’re the people you see on TV, you hear on the radio. People you feel you know. People you feel you can trust. And they’re telling you that these products work. So, why wouldn’t you trust them? Surely they can’t outright lie?
If you have had your head in the clouds and haven’t seen any of the kind of posts I am talking about, here’s an example of someone you might recognise promoting a ‘flat tummy lollipop’. Yep. Imagine being a 14 year old seeing that, and feeling like your body isn’t enough. You’d want that lollipop right? You’d know it works because Kim Kardashian is talking about it and you know who she is, she is renowned for looking awesome, and you trust her. Right?
(Source: Instagram @kimkardashian)
Surround yourself with anything long enough and you’re going to start to believe it to be true. Social media sites have very publicly come under fire in recent years, having been called out as allowing advertising which promotes a negative body image, potentially encouraging disordered eating, fuelling diet culture and doing nothing to protect their younger and more vulnerable users. Just like video games and movies, shouldn’t some content have a PG rating? Is it appropriate for a 13 year old to be able to view content promoting cosmetic procedures? Do social media sites have a duty of care to their users?
Given the amount of time that we spend on our phones, and social media, imagine how many of these dangerous posts, selling products that don’t work, you (or a young adult) able to view in the estimated 53minutes+ that they spend on Instagram per day. It’s a lot.
Seven months ago, amidst the loud shouts from many that social media sites such as instagram needed to step up their game with protecting their users, celebrity Jameela Jamil started a petition calling social networks to stop celebrities from endorsing diet products https://bit.ly/2MRu0fq The petition got a lot of coverage, and was no doubt the talking point of many regarding how responsible it really was to allow this form of paid partnerships continue. It became standard for #Ad to be mentioned in partnerships such as this – or a tag with ‘Paid Partnership’. Still, the waters remained murky and it was clear that more could, and should be done.
Within the fitness industry, James Smith started to call out and publicly name and shame individuals who were taking part in these paid partnerships. Tagging the companies whose products were involved and satirically commenting on their supposed benefits.
(Source: Instagram @jamessmithpt)
Locally, a personal trainer publicly shed a stone in a day in an effort to question what ‘losing weight’ really meant – and the effects that abusing your body in this way had on him personally, in just 24 hours. https://bit.ly/2mqT8Rn
With this conversation spiralling through the news, social networks have been forced to take a long look in the mirror and make some pretty big moves to prove they care about their users. The first came on Wednesday this week (18th September) from Instagram.
The platform who have over a billion users, are rolling out a new policy where detox teas, diet pills, slimming sweets etc are no longer going to be shown to under 18s. Under these new rules, if a post promotes a weight loss product or cosmetic procedure and has a price tag fixed to it, users who are younger than 18 will be prohibited from viewing the post.
It will also be removing posts to all users that make a ‘miraculous claim’ about certain diet or weight loss products and is linked to a commercial offer like a discount code. These posts will no longer be allowed under Instagram’s community guidelines and there will be an added functionality to allow users to report the posts that don’t fall under the same guidelines. This means no more influencers sharing discount codes, crediting detox tea’s for their recent 100lb weight loss transformations. Good.
In a press release Emma Collins, Public Policy Manager at Instagram, said; “We want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it, and this policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media.”
Jameela Jamil who has openly campaigned for changes like this through her movement i_weigh and many public interviews, said; “It sets the tone that this is not okay in our society,” she told British Elle. “We have hyper-normalised flogging nonsense to young impressionable people. These people are selling hair-growth gummies but wearing extensions, or photoshopping themselves to look slimmer and selling a weight-loss shake. There are so many lies being told, and we’ve accepted that as a cultural norm.”
So, what do you think? Are these new policies enough? Do you think they will protect our young people from accounts that potentially promote disordered eating? What about the rest of us? Should there be more ad screening on social media? And, what is being done to ensure the advertising we see really is ethical?
Well, Instagram’s recent announcement of changes is certainly a start. And personally, I am chuffed to see the platform taking steps in the right direction. I guess the next question is, what regulations will be introduced by other social networks? Will they follow suit? Let’s wait and see.