Social media influencers: new rules bring 'integrity to an unregulated market'

Lawyers and online marketers say those with fake followers and poor practices will be weeded out

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New rules that require paid social media influencers to secure a licence will bring integrity to an unregulated market, legal figures and influencers said.

From failing to deliver on business agreements to using followers that have been bought, the industry has its rogue elements, insiders said as they welcomed the decision to regulate the sector.

“It is good for the brand and creative agencies that are engaging the influencers, and the influencers themselves," said Hannah McKinlay, principal at the ADGM licensed law firm Support Legal.

"It brings more integrity and transparency to the industry."

On Tuesday, the National Media Council said social media businesses that accept money to promote or sponsor content online would need a licence to operate, including influencers.

That will not extend to those who accept free products or meals, meaning reviewers and bloggers will not need a licence unless cash is involved.

Ms McKinlay said the UAE would be among the first countries to regulate the industry, “one that is moving and developing very rapidly, making it hard for lawmakers and regulators [around the world] to keep up with”.

She said the informal nature of the industry, such as promoting luxury brands or travel in short self-shot videos, has led to unreliability.


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"We have seen situations in the past where brands and creative agencies have gone to a lot of effort to engage with these influencers and then the influencers just disappear and don’t stick to the guidelines or the requirements.

"It is very difficult for the agencies to follow up on these individuals who disappear."

The lawyer said she hopes the end result is a reliable "a register of licensed influencers which people can look to to promote their products and services".

Saygin Yalcin is the Dubai-based founder and chief executive of the sucessful e-commerce business, but has more than 400,000 followers on his personal account.

Until now the regulations surrounding what can be marketed online has been "pretty broad".

"I believe it is necessary to understand that this is a profession that wasn't regulated at all so [the licence] gives it credibility," he told The National.

“Being an influencer per se doesn’t require a licence. Conducting a business as an influencer does - and you are making money so you can afford the fees."

The media council is yet to announce the cost of securing a licence.

Helen Farmer runs the Instagram account The Mothership, which focuses on parenting and her own experience raising her children. She already has her own trade licence.

She said businesses are getting more “savvy” about detecting accounts with bought likes and fake followers, but also said regulation benefits all professionals.

"Hopefully with the regulations, people will be discouraged from [trying to use fake followers] because we will all be taking it a little bit more seriously," she said.

"I also think and hope that brands and agencies are now looking into software that weed that out as well.

"Hopefully that will be improving within the next few months but there generally needs to be more transparency.

"If you are charging for a service, then you need to share your analytics.

"Anyone considering spending with an influencer should be absolutely asking for demographics and reach before any money is exchanged like any business transaction."

Dr Rashid Al Nuaimi, the media council's executive director of media affairs, said: “The electronic activities that must be licensed are the sites used for trading, showcasing and selling print, video, and audio materials, online and digital publishing activities, and on-call printing; websites specialising in activities such as online advertisements, news, in addition to social media accounts where all the above-mentioned activities are practiced for commercial purposes.

He added: “The Electronic Media Regulations do not apply to personal websites and online platforms of any members of the community, unless they are used to carry out media or commercial activities for commercial purposes, or used as platforms for paid advertising.”