Australia takes the wrong path on Twitter advertising disclosure


On Saturday I was interviewed on ABC24 about the news that Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had said that it is acceptable for celebrities to do paid promotions on Twitter without disclosing their affiliation. This followed the announcement on ABC’s MediaWatch program that celebrity chef Matt Moran, among others, had accepted payment from South Australia’s Tourism Board for tweets.

I was asked why there was any difference with the “cash for comments” furor from 1999 when radio personalities were charged and fined for making on-air endorsements without disclosing payments made by the companies concerned.

There is of course no essential difference. Twitter is media. As attention shifts from traditional channels such as TV, radio, and newspapers to social media, naturally advertisers want to shift their presence to the emerging channels. That is absolutely fine. If advertisers want to use social media to get their messages across, that’s OK – users have many ways to deal with that. However there are clear regulations and norms on advertising in traditional media, where commercials are clearly delineated.

The US Federal Trade Commission has provided detailed endorsement guides, specifically revised to include social media, “because truth in advertising is important in all media – including blogs and social networking sites”.

The UK Office of Fair Trading has intervened on undisclosed paid celebrity tweeting, and commented on the practice by Olympic athletes.

The most prominent Twitter advertising platforms, and Sponsored Tweets, both have policies that all paid tweets must be disclosed (see links for their policies). I first wrote about Sponsored Tweet’s business and disclosure policies in 2009.

It is not clear why the ACCC feels it is OK for advertising on Twitter not to be disclosed. This is the wrong path.

Of course the broader context is that today anyone can be an influencer, and that many will seek to monetize their influence. This is not just about celebrities, though this is where it all starts.

While it is the tweeters who lose credibility in everything they do by making undisclosed paid endorsements, it is also to a certain degree the medium. While we all have responsibility for making our own choices on the reputation of celebrities and our ‘friends’ – that is whether we give any credence to what they say – we also need full available information to make those decisions.

It is simple to put in ‘#AD’ or ‘$$’ in a tweet to make a disclosure, or preferably a link to a full disclosure. While we don’t have norms, there are enough precedents now on how to make a disclosure on Twitter.

Transparency is paramount in everything. Let’s make sure we get that in paid ads.