Surprise! Undisclosed Sponsorships Abound on TikTok

August 4, 2022

Would you consider this weaponized information or just Madison Avenue in the digital era? Vox reveals, “TikTok Is Full of Shady Secret Advertisements.” Regulations specify social media influencers must disclose if they are being paid to endorse or display a product, but many fail to do so. And with issues like privacy protection taking top priority, the FTC is hard pressed to stop them. Though the problem has existed across social media platforms for years, TikTok has taken it to a new level. Reporter Sara Morrison writes:

“It’s pervasive because it’s easy: With the internet and social media, there is a seemingly infinite supply of content to regulate and almost no transparency, which makes it exceedingly difficult for the agencies charged with enforcing the rules to know when they’re being broken. … But TikTok’s undisclosed ad problem seems to be particularly bad. The app is believed to be especially addictive, with users spending far more time on TikTok than on competitors’ apps. And everything is younger: the users, the creators, and the platform itself. TikTok is only now encountering some of the regulatory and legal growing pains its social media platform peers faced years ago. TikTok is also very popular with a desirable and elusive demographic: Gen Z. And brands know that influencers can be a great way to reach them.”

See the article for several examples and some of the factors making it difficult for regulators to curb such “sponcon.” Sponsors and influencers might be underestimating Gen Z, however, and this tactic may eventually backfire. Most of those born after 1997 have enough digital savvy to know when they are being sold to and resent attempts at trickery. Though it sounds like an oxymoron to older folks, members of this generation value authenticity in their virtual interactions. If TikTok continues to let sponsorship violations slide, it might just see its treasured target audience slip away.

Cynthia Murrell, August 4, 2022

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