There Ought To Be a Law:
Regulation of Social Media
The University of Alabama
In today's culture, many people use social media in their daily routine and as a mandatory obligation in their careers. As technology becomes more prevalent, when will it be time to begin regulating social media? Social media influencers are defined as people who have a large following, carry a strong reputation on social media, and who establish credibility in a specific field through various internet platforms. These influencers have no regulation on what they post, and this could result in a serious problem in our society. Blogging, YouTube channels, and social media accounts are becoming more powerful in the advertising industry, and making sure this is monitored will keep influencers accountable and consumers safe.
The problem with social media in today's society is that certain aspects of social media are not regulated, such as significant social media influencers and celebrities. According to a case study done by Paul Gillen, a survey states that the top three online tools that are used for campaign advertising are blogs, online videos, and social networking (Gillen, 2008). Because these influencers do not have any regulation on what they post, this can be problematic if they post something risky. For example, if a influencer with thousands of followers gives out medical advice with no medical background, this could cause many problems with consumer health and safety. Present-day, there are no consequences for these types of actions. Understanding the difference between the right to freedom of speech and harm to consumers is something that needs to be closely watched. Other factors need to be further examined when looking at these followers, such as the age of people who have these accounts – People the ages of 18-29 are 83% likely to use social networking sites, whereas people the ages of 65+ are only 32% likely to use social media accounts (Duggan, Brenner 2013). This is a fast growing industry, and needs to be observed closely.
Three reasons why there should be greater regulation for influencers who have a large following on social media platforms include: influencers are abnormally persuasive over a variety of age groups, influencers need to make it established to consumers when they are doing a paid advertisement, and social media platforms need to make users aware of how they are using their information and be more transparent about their actions. Bloggers are very influential to many age groups, so what they say can really impact their opinions. Having guidelines about the content of social media posts will protect the well-being of the followers. Depending on what the user is posting, there needs to be an age limit to what young kids should or should not see on their accounts. Not only should the influencers be held accountable, but the social media platform itself. There should be more regulation on age limit that people can follow questionable influencers, when posts should be filtered out, and what content certain age groups should see. Some influencers post material that is not fit for specific age groups, so filtering this out will help the well-being of the society, especially in younger children who have social media. According to a study conducted by Eleanor Winpenny, Theresa Marteau, and Ellen Nolte, it concludes that there is a “potential high exposure of children and young adults to alcohol marketing through social media websites” (Winpenny, Marteau & Nolte, 2013). When being exposed to this type of advertisements at a young age, it can be definitely become problematic.
Another reason why there should be regulation for influencers could be that they are promoting unsafe or unauthorized products to consumers. Influencers need to make it known to viewers when they are doing paid advertisements for a company. It can be confusing, especially to younger viewers, to differentiate an advertisement and a program meant for entertainment. In the United Kingdom, the Advertising Standards Authority has laws stating that you must put the #ad by every post that is a paid advertisement, so consumers can see the differences in what paid advertisements and actual opinions of people (Advertising Standards Authority [ASA], 2018). Having this distinction be more recognizable can protect consumers and will stop the cases of faulty or dangerous products from being promoted by influential social media accounts.
Lastly, it is important for social media websites and bloggers to be more transparent to their viewers of their blogs and channels. Viewers need to be notified about how these websites use the information they are given through a person's search history, because it will affect future internet experiences. Making sure people's personal data is safe could be beneficial to consumers and to businesses, because various businesses could build trust from consumers. For businesses, building this trust leads to better email engagement and a better marketing experience. For consumers, more regulation for their personal data will make them feel more secure, and want to engage with bloggers and social media websites more often. In Europe, they have an organization called the General Data Protection Regulation, which ensures consumers data is given to businesses and to other types of social media are secure and protected (General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR], 2016). This could be beneficial for our country, and should be put into effect in the United States. Internet safety and product safety is an essential part of consumer protection, and there should be more regulation on these aspects.
A few policy alternatives that need to be implemented include having specific jobs to monitor these influencers to make sure that they are following the guidelines that are put in place for their fixed group of followers. Another idea is that influencers should sign contracts, agreeing to not post anything that will be harmful to their followers and their fan base in any way. If they do not stay in line with these instructions, there will be warnings given and certain posts may be deleted. If posts continue to violate this contract, their social media could be put on probation, and eventually be taken offline. There could be a distinct counterargument for this idea, being that these policies are in violation to freedom of speech. Many people believe it is their profile, so they should have the freedom to say what they want online.
In conclusion, social media and advertisements in general should have more rules and regulation to keep consumers of all ages safe. Because social media has such a large impact on everyday lives, being cautious about what is being posted online is essential to protecting users. Policymakers need to look into these situations more carefully, because it could have a negative effect on consumers, viewers, and bloggers if no changes are made.
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