The Advertising Standards Council of India told Entrackr on Friday that influencers who may have accepted payment to post tweets critical of the e-commerce firm Meesho may be liable for prosecution, in addition to violating a voluntary code of conduct.
Some influencers had shared an Economic Times report earlier this week with remarks critical of the company, and they all tagged Twitter handles belonging to Meesho’s institutional investors. Ravisutanjani Kumar, a startup executive, first spotted the seemingly coordinated posts, which Meesho alleged was a smear campaign. Other social media users said they had received enticements to post similar tweets.
ASCI’s “guidelines for influencer advertising in digital media clearly mention that the influencers need to disclose any material connection including but not limited to benefits and incentives, monetary or otherwise,” the council’s Chief Executive Officer and Secretary General Manisha Kapoor told Entrackr in a written response to our queries.
The ASCI guidelines require paid content to be prominently disclosed as such, which the influencers mentioned by Kumar did not do. Meesho has sent legal notices to these users and demanded that they apologize and reveal who offered to pay them.
While the ASCI guidelines are voluntary, the advertising self-regulation body’s existence and general respect towards it is the only thing standing between the advertising industry (influencer-based or otherwise) and direct government regulation.
Importantly, Kapoor assessed that “these influencers are seriously misguiding the public and are in violation of ASCI’s guidelines on misleading ads,” and that “they could also be prosecuted under the Consumer Protection Act.” It is notable that a self-regulatory body like the ASCI is assessing that prosecution against influencers is possible. This could also have ramifications for any influencer posting paid content on business rivals without disclosing that they were paid to do so.
While Kapoor did not say under which provision of the Consumer Protection Act these influencers would be liable for action, the law provides for the recently set up Central Consumer Protection Authority to pursue action against “misleading advertisements”.
A Meesho spokesperson did not have an immediate comment to offer on the ASCI’s assessment.
This is all happening while Meesho tightens its business, even as strategy problemsexcessive levels of marketing spend, and counterfeiting by sellers have cast a shadow on the company’s rapid growth.