On July 15, numerous complaints about the conduct of renowned stylist Han Hye-yeon were posted to a video clip on her YouTube channel ‘SyuseuseuTV’. Similar comments were posted to the Instagram page of celebrity Kang Min-kyung. Viewers were accusing the stars of ‘cheating consumers' because they endorsed products under false pretenses. The posts were paid-advertisements and not simply friendly advice from the popular stars. Viewers complained they, and several other social media stars, were uploading “deceptive advertising’ posts. The media was deceptive because they led consumers to believe they genuinely liked the product, when in fact they were simply being paid to promote it. A Social Networking Site (SNS) influencer is a 'person' who carries influence in the social media realm. This is why their deceptive advertising has been so controversial.
|▲ Han Hye-yeon in apology video (Photo from Syuseuseu TV)|
The complaints, first raised by Dispatch, a local internet news media channel, criticized the influencers for directly deceiving their viewers. “This is not an advertisement, I bought it to review and then recommend it to my viewers if I think it is a good item,” Han has said repeatedly when recommending viewers buy the products she highlights on her media channel.
As the controversy around her continued, Han finally uploaded an apology video. “I apologize if I let you down. In future, I will make my Pay per Lead (PPL) clear, so that I won’t repeat my mistakes.” However, the issue made some YouTubers, such as Cham PD and Hong Sound, fed up with the deceptive practice and forced them to take on the role of whistleblowers.
“I have 3 videos and 1000 screenshots that can prove YouTubers are advertising without first telling consumers they are being paid for their recommendations.” On August 3, Cham PD, a YouTuber with 1.23 million subscribers, exposed a number of deceptive ads while live streaming. He aroused the suspicion of viewers regarding deceptive ads from channels such as Eat with Boki, NareumTV, and Sangyoon. Because he was drinking while hosting the feed, viewers did not take his comments seriously at first. However, soon after the post went live, other viewers uncovered further evidence that proved he was in fact correct. As a result, Eat with Boki and other YouTubers were forced to admit their deceptive practices and apologize to their viewers. He said, “I’m sorry that I did the ad without providing notice to my audience.”
As Cham PD’s complaints were proven fact, consumers began searching for other YouTubers' practicing deceptive behavior. “I was surprised to learn that almost all YouTubers deceive their viewers.” The comment, written on Cham PD’s video, shows how many YouTubers are involved.
“I plan to quit doing mukbangs.” Hong Sound, a YouTuber who has 1.66 million subscribers said. “I never did a deceptive ad. I’m genuine. But after my video exposing the practice was uploaded, many viewers, who do not know me, have been calling me out for whistleblowing.” He called it an angry witch-hunt of genuine YouTubers.
The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Dankookians (Students of Dankook University) to learn more about their opinions of the controversy. All participants said they had been influenced by a YouTuber’s recommendation in the past. When asked to describe the experience, Student Jeong said, “I was disappointed and felt cheated by these YouTubers, but it was a good opportunity for honest YouTubers who make a habit of specifying their post is a paid for advertisement, to earn more viewers.”
Student Nam said, "I think this type of false advertising is designed to create profits for the company and the influencer by deceiving viewers and subscribers who trust them, and brings confusion to an otherwise fair marketplace."
Student Park pointed out how ther practice increases consumer desire for the goods under false pretenses. Park said, “When influencer practices deceptive advertising, viewers are under the impression the product being introduced is of good quality because of the trust they have in the advice of the social media influencer. This is why it is important to point out that the post is a paid advertisement and not a simple social endorsement.”
Deceptive advertising has broken the trust between advertisers, influencers, and consumers. According to the General Law Office ‘GongJeong’, the ‘Display Advertisement Act’ addresses cases of deceptive advertisements. However, there are no legal standards to punish influencers for their misleading practices, Thus, the need to enact related laws has been raised recently. Unlike TV programs that are regulated by the Broadcasting Act, the trustworthiness of advertisements poste to YouTube is left up to the YouTubers themselves. "Unless we investigate YouTubers one by one, it is virtually impossible to find out which posts are real reviews and which ones are paid advertisements," a public relations worker at GongJeong said. Meanwhile, for those YouTubers who admitted publicly to using deceptive ads and their associated vendors, they remained unpunished by authorities. The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) drafted a revision to the law in response to the controversy over YouTube's deceptive ads. The proposed changes are as follows. 1. Advertisements should be placed where consumers can easily identify them and should use appropriate text sizes and colors. 2. Ads should also clarify economic interests, explain what kind of financial support or discount or sponsorship has been received. 3. In the case of blog ads, a phrase identifying the ad should be marked at the beginning or end of the post that distinguishes it from normal text. Instagram advertisements should be clearly labeled at the beginning of the text. YouTube videos should state that it is an advertisement at the beginning and end of a title or video. These changes will take effect September 1, 2020, and failure to comply with the new laws could result in up to two years in prison or 150 million won in fines.
Currently, various efforts are being made to regulate the practice of deceptive advertising by social media influencers by the Fair Trade Commission. However, in the end, the search for and consumption judgment of countless products posted to SNS is up to consumers. Therefore, people should learn to enjoy their cultural life while maintaining a critical attitude toward information they find on SNS. Influencers should also be more responsible for their role in delivering information and maintaining a reliable broadcasting culture.
|▲ Deceptive Advertisement (Photo from Naverblog)|
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