What is an influencer? Frankly the answer depends on context, and whom you ask. The conventional definition of an influencer is someone who wields influence. He or she uses it to persuade or convince others to follow certain beliefs or behave in certain ways. But these days, there is a different definition.
In 21st century parlance, an influencer is defined as someone with the power to shape others’ buying decisions. In other words, an influencer in this context is someone who “dictates” what is cool, and what the general public “has to have.”
It sounds like fun, right? Especially since these influencers tend to be famous – or at the very least, enjoy tremendous popularity in certain circles. In fact, one cannot be an influencer without an audience or social media following . To be an influencer, one must also have knowledge or expertise in a certain area.
Fame and popularity aren’t the only perks. If you’re lucky enough to partner with a brand or brands, you may also get trendy products to “share” with your followers.
Of course, being an influencer isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. In this article we will discuss the most common lawsuits and issues facing influencers.
Influencers must follow rules regarding advertising and endorsements
When it comes to promoting goods and services, there are strict rules that all influencers must follow – especially on social media. By breaking these rules – inadvertently or otherwise – you risk running afoul of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
For one, this federal government agency demands honesty in all online advertising. This means any claims you make as an influencer cannot be misleading. They are also subject to verification. So you cannot claim that lotion “X” will make users look 10 years younger overnight (unless you can prove it).
As an influencer, you are legally obligated to disclose:
- If you work for the brand that makes the products or services you are sharing with your audience/followers.
- If the brand that makes the products or services you are sharing with your audience/followers is paying you to endorse them.
Even if you’re not being compensated, you must still disclose your relationship with the brand in certain circumstances. For example , if a brand gives you a free handbag to review, you may have to let your audience/followers know. Specifically, you must do so if knowing about the free handbag would change the weight or credibility that viewers would ordinarily afford the review.
Because endorsements are broadly defined and subject to comprehensive rules and regulations, it is a good idea to speak to an experienced attorney about your legal obligations. While you are at it, it is also a good idea to ask a lawyer about the language required for various disclosures.
Restrictions on social media activity
One could argue – and justifiably so – that 21st century influencers wouldn’t exist without social media. This is because online platforms allow influencers to reach hundreds, thousands or even millions of people instantly. However, all users – including influences – must abide by certain rules in order to use these platforms.
Basically it boils down to this. Influencers are no different from the rest of us. In the United States, they do have a Constitutional right to free speech. However social media platforms such as Face Book, Twitter, Instagram and others, have the right to operate their platforms as they see fit. To that end, they control the messages that everyone – including influencers are sharing.
To date, legal arguments opposing the restrictions that different social media platforms place on content have been unsuccessful. This is due to a couple of factors, including the protections these sites have under federal law.
Furthermore, influencers – like the rest of us – are sometimes subjected to inconsistent application of rules governing content. This is because the observers employed by each platform have sole discretion over enforcement and application of the rules. For the time being, at least, there is no permanence and there is no support for influencers trying to cope with capricious enforcement.
Influencers may be sued – a lot
It is no secret that we live in a litigious society. As an influencer, you may often find that you are facing fines, sanctions or even lawsuits. You may be sued by:
- The federal government (FTC) for alleged violations of rules regarding endorsements and advertising.
- The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for alleged violations of rules regarding endorsements.
- Unhappy customers who believe you have engaged in misleading advertising.
- Brands that you work for/partner with for alleged breach of conduct.
- Businesses/groups/private citizens for violation of intellectual property laws including but not limited to copyright and trademark infringement.
The bottom line is that you can easily find yourself in a lot of trouble, just by making an honest mistake. This is largely because ignorance of the law – or applicable rules, is not an acceptable excuse for breaking them. Therefore, it is crucial that you consult a qualified lawyer about your legal rights and obligations as an influencer. That’s where the business law team at the Los Angeles Law Office of Parag L. Amin P.C. comes in. To learn more about how we can help, reach out to schedule an appointment, today.