France is finalizing a law that seeks to regulate the commercial activities of influencers and protect consumers from possible fraud or scams. The regulation, which has already been approved by the National Assembly and the Senate, prohibits promoting cosmetic surgery and subscriptions to sports betting applications. It also forces influencers to state whether they have been paid to promote a product, if images have been retouched or if a person’s figure or face have been created with the help of artificial intelligence. If a person breaks the rules, they may face up to two years in prison, a €300,000 ($320,000) fine and be banned from carrying out commercial activities on social media.
The legislation — which has been prepared by lawmakers from both the government and opposition parties — seeks to place safeguards on the fast-growing sector. Influencers reach millions of followers, who are encouraged to consume a range of content, from beauty and travel tips to recommendations to invest in stock and cryptocurrencies. The supporters of the bill warn that this new digital marketing — based on a “falsely intimate” relationships with consumers — has led to abusive advertising practices.
In the explanatory statement, the lawmakers cite examples such as the promotion of alleged “drugs” against cancer or cosmetic products that cause hair loss. “The world of influence must not be a lawless zone,” Arthur Delaporte, from the Socialist Party, and Stéphane Vojetta, from French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance (RE) party, write in the document.
Vojetta explains to EL PAÍS that the law has two aspects: “Beyond guaranteeing respect for the current law, the rules that currently exist regarding advertising, it has been determined that there are certain rules, prohibitions or obligations that should be strengthened, especially in terms of transparency.”
Filter warnings and ban on wild animals
The proposed law builds on current French legislation that strictly regulates the advertising of products such as tobacco or alcohol. While the current law requires transparency in advertising, the new bill would require influencers to include a banner indicating that a post has been sponsored.
Influencers will also have to indicate whether filters have been used. An amendment, added in the Senate, also requires social media users to state whether a figure or face have been created with AI. Vojetta hopes these rules will prevent young people from “being dominated by unrealistic body representations.”
The bill also bans influencers from promoting cosmetic surgery, “therapeutic abstention” (stopping medical treatment) and certain financial products such as cryptocurrencies. Paid partnerships for gambling will only be allowed on platforms off-limits to minors. The bill also bans the exploitation of wild animals such as bears or lion cubs.
The bill provides a legal definition of influencer, defining the figure as someone who “directly or indirectly promotes goods, services or any cause” for money. It states that both the brand and the influencer are responsible for what content is posted, and that the relationship between the two must be regulated by a contract. Influencers who reside outside the European Union must appoint a legal representative in the EU and take out civil insurance.
15 agents to control infractions
The proposed law also puts more responsibility on platforms, which must have tools to report illegal content and act if necessary, by taking measures such as closing accounts and moderating content.
Starting in September, a department of the Ministry of Economy will also be in charge of monitoring social networks and responding to complaints. Initially, the team will be made up of 15 agents. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on May 3 that the department had already stepped up its controls. Some 60% of the 50 influencers reviewed in the first quarter of 2023 had committed violations, he said.
Now all that remains is to define the final text of the bill, which has already been voted on by the National Assembly and the Senate. Lawmakers hope that it will be enacted before the summer and that it will protect both consumers, mostly young people, and influencers. Authorities estimate that there are around 150,000 influencers in France, but only a minority use abusive practices or carry out scams.
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