Dutch consumer watchdog clamps down on ‘influencers’ buying fake likes and followers

Enforcement activity highlights the need to vet influencers before the roll-out of marketing campaigns

While there has been much international attention on the problem of fake news and reviews recently, the issue of fake likes and followers has also been making headlines in the Netherlands thanks to actions of its authority for Consumers and Markets (Autoriteit Consument & Markt (ACM).

Last year, the ACM reported it had called to account six influencers for the purchase of fake likes on a large scale, while, earlier this year, the Dutch regulator informed tens of thousands of buyers of fake likes and followers that risk a fine for any use thereof, as it is considered misleading towards consumers.

In recent years, influencers have become a major part of digital marketing strategies for brands looking to expand their audience internationally, including in the Netherlands and Europe. In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority has issued warnings to influencers about their activities, following an earlier Competition and Markets Authority probe. The EU Copyright Directive has also had implications for influencers along with others putting content on to social platforms.

What is going on?

Influencers can use fake likes and followers to manipulate their image, company, product or service. By doing so, the influencers and advertisers seem to be very popular and trustworthy, when, in reality, they are not.

Fake likes and followers were bought in no time and offered for all big social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. The number of followers and likes are of the utmost importance to influencers as these are considered major criteria to be selected by the algorithms used by social media platforms and make them more visible to potential advertisers.

Needless to say, breaking the rules is tempting as influencers can attract big sponsorships when having a large audience. A good example is a Dutch influencer and fitness-vlogger Mo Bicep who used 98,000 fake followers, according to the ACM. Due to his “social media success”, he managed to secure his “own” chicken-breast and nutritional supplements being sold at a large Dutch supermarket chain.

According to research by the ACM, the damages arising from these fake marketing tactics for online advertisers were estimated at a huge €1.2 billion worldwide. Companies are obviously willing to pay much higher amounts to influencers with 1 million-plus followers rather than to someone having only 100,000 followers.

Osborne Clarke comment

Many companies contract influencers to boost their social media presence. However, influencers now risk considerable fines for misleading consumers if they don’t play by the rules. Being affiliated with a cheating influencer may very well lead to serious damage to a company’s reputation or image when the influencer is targeted by the ACM, not to mention the advertising costs paid by such company for the influencer’s non-existing public.

The ACM has outlined its focus areas in 2022, which includes the protection of consumers – including the young – in the digital economy. In particular, the ACM aims to tackle fake engagement such as unfair reviews and likes. Accordingly, we expect enforcement actions concerning influencers or companies breaching consumer laws by using fake likes or fake followers.

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