Australia urged to regulate influencers who profit from ‘spread of disinformation’



Influencers could be licensed under new policy recommendations. (Jens Kalaene, photo alliance via Getty Images)
  • A new report has charted a possible path to ensure the quality and accuracy of content delivered by influencers.
  • The Australian Institute‘s Center for Responsible Technology argues that traditional Australian rules on advertising and proper licensing should be extended online to prevent the spread of misinformation and bad advice.
  • Currently, too many bad actors are profiting from sharing harmful content while Australian policymakers are being left behind.
  • Visit the Business Insider Australia homepage for more stories.

Influencers have become an accepted part of the online experience, but without any serious effort to control them, many profit from deceiving Australians, whether on purpose or not.

Now, a new report from the Australian Institute, a progressive think tank, argues that Australia has been too slow to regulate the group that wields great power with little responsibility.

“Social media influencers profit from spreading fake news and shoddy advice online,” said Jordan Guiao, a researcher at the Institute’s Center for Responsible Technology (CRT).

“It is a criminal offense to provide unlicensed medical and financial advice, yet many influencers do so on social media.”

Guiao says that there are only “two self-regulatory codes that oversee” the group. Indeed, despite the fact that they accumulate huge followers often outnumber those of traditional media, influencers are not subject to many of the same rules that minimize the potential for harm.

There’s also not the same scrutiny of their credentials, as highlighted by the rise of unqualified financial influencers who preach on everything from emergency funds to cryptocurrencies.

While Financial Services Minister Jane Hume has rejected previous calls to action, the Australian financial watchdog appears to be taking notice. ASIC confirmed this week that it is reviewing the space and will reassess its terms of engagement.

While the regulator has previously warned that it will fine those who provide unlicensed online financial advice and called on the public to crack down on the culprits, the behavior continues unabated.

Afterward, Guiro argues that Australia can no longer afford to sit idly by as the bad actors spread bad advice, conspiracy theories and misinformation, especially regarding the pandemic.

“We believe now is the right time for the government and its regulators to revisit this space, as it is increasingly profitable and affects thousands of Australians who take the advice of influencers to heart.”

What to do against dishonest influencers

To this end, the CRT explained how regulators could gain the upper hand in the rapidly growing space.

First, the Center says existing advertising rules should cover influencers given the movement of advertising dollars into their pockets. These controls would ensure the accuracy and transparency of the content “to prevent the sharing of inaccurate and problematic information”.

Second, he believes that regulators, especially the ACCC, have underestimated the collective impact and reach of small accounts. He wants the watchdog to investigate medium sized profiles as well as larger ones, given their combined litter.

Finally, the CRT wants policy makers to treat online influencers the same way they would offline when it comes to providing advice. Whether medical or financial, Guidao takes issue with the idea that online actors should be able to provide unqualified, and potentially damaging, advice without consequences or oversight.

“Properly qualified accounts might have markers that set them apart, like official watermarks or labels verifying them as professionals and highlighting unqualified profiles,” the CRT wrote.

Those who broke the rules would face “significant penalties and misleading”, tying their income to the quality of their content.



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