France is finalizing a law that seeks to regulate the commercial activities of influencers and protect consumers from possible fraud or deception. The rule, which has already been approved by the National Assembly and the Senate, prohibits, for example, the promotion of cosmetic surgery or subscriptions to sports betting applications. It also requires indicating with a mention if advertising activities are carried out, if the images used have been retouched or if someone's silhouette or face has been created with the help of artificial intelligence. In case of infraction, the penalties can reach up to two years in prison, 300,000 euros fine or the prohibition to exercise their activity.
The law, drafted by deputies from government and opposition parties, seeks to curb the excesses of a sector in full expansion. The publications of the influencers hook millions of followers every day to their screens, where they consume endless content that can range from beauty and travel tips to recommendations to invest in the stock market or acquire cryptocurrencies. The promoters of the rule have warned that this new digital marketing, based on a "falsely intimate" relationship, has led to "a series of abuses in the promotion of objects or services."
In the explanatory statement, they cite examples such as the promotion of so-called cancer "drugs" or cosmetic products that cause hair loss. "The world of influence must not be a lawless zone," justify deputies Arthur Delaporte, of the Socialist party, and Stéphane Vojetta, of President Emmanuel Macron's Renaissance party.
Vojetta explains to EL PAÍS that the law he has promoted 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 must be reinforced, especially in terms of transparency."
Indicate whether filters are used and prohibit putting wild animals on stage
The proposal is in addition to the legislation that exists in the country and that strictly regulates the advertising of products such as tobacco or alcohol. The current law already requires transparency regarding the commercial nature of the activity carried out, but with the new standard, the commercial publications of the influencers must include the mention "advertising".
It will be necessary to indicate whether filters that alter reality are used. The senators also added an amendment that requires mentioning whether the faces or silhouettes of the photos have been created by artificial intelligence. With these clauses, Vojetta hopes to help young people "not to be dominated by unrealistic representations of bodies."
The legislation establishes a number of prohibitions. Any promotion of surgery or "therapeutic abstention" (the interruption of medical treatment) will be proscribed, as well as the promotion of certain financial products. As for gambling, it will only be possible to promote them on platforms that allow minors to be excluded. It will also be forbidden to stage non-domestic animals (bear or lion cubs, for example).
The bill also provides a legal definition of an influencer: one who "for consideration" communicates online content that promotes "directly or indirectly goods, services or any cause." It also defines the activity of intermediaries between brands and influencers, and states that both parties are responsible for what is communicated and must be governed by written contracts. Influencers residing outside the European Union must appoint a legal representative in the EU and take out civil insurance.
Fines, jail and 15 officers to control infractions
Anyone who violates the law will face penalties of up to two years in prison, fines that can reach up to 300,000 euros and the prohibition – definitive or provisional – to exercise their commercial activity. But the bill also imposes an additional responsibility on platforms, which must have tools to report illegal content and act if necessary (closing accounts, moderating content).
Starting in September, a department of the Ministry of Economy will also be responsible for monitoring social networks and responding to complaints. Initially, the team will consist of 15 agents. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on 3rd May that the department had already stepped up its controls. Some 60% of the 50 influencers monitored in the first quarter of 2023 had committed violations, he said.
Now only the final text of the bill remains to be defined, which has already been voted by the National Assembly and the Senate. Lawmakers hope it will be enacted before the summer and protect both consumers, mostly young people, and influencers. Authorities estimate that some 150,000 people engage in this activity in exchange for money in France, although only a minority resort to abusive practices or scams.
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