ASA starts using AI to identify influencers who fail to disclose ads in posts

The watchdog releases its annual report and discloses how it is using tech to tackle misleading influencer advertising.

Influencer ads

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced a new project that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse all Instagram Stories posted by influencers it deems “high risk” for not clearly disclosing when their content is an ad.

Machine learning algorithms are being used to automatically identify possible ads in posts, with image recognition and natural language processing techniques being used to categories influencer posts. The ASA is also searching for content for possible ad labels to identify content that is likely to be an ad, but in breach of rules, is not clearly labelled.

The ASA said: “The technology is transforming our ability to act at pace and scale in identifying problems and take action. It automates what was previously a manual and labour-intensive monitoring process, resulting in efficiency gains, and enables us to prioritise where we focus our attention – on influencers and advertisers causing most harm to consumers.”

AI monitoring on influencers

Dozens of influencers that the ASA deems “high risk” are being monitored each week, and more than 80,000 Instagram Stories are being analysed for non-compliance since the project kicked off, with around 20,000 being captured every month.

The ASA is scaling up the process, with tracking on what influencers are talking about and examining trends in tagging and mentions. 

“We are also ramping up our monitoring of companies who partner with influencers and holding them to account. Repeat offenders who are unable or unwilling to follow the rules will face an escalation of sanctions and enforcement action,” it said.

It warned that it is considering lining up the worst offenders for referral to statutory authorities for potential legal sanctions, as well as working with host platforms to ban “problem accounts”.

Influencer posts were a quarter of ad breach cases in 2021

The announcement tied in with the release of the ASA’s annual report which revealed that in 2021 there were almost 5,000 complaints about influencer posts, an increase of 20% on 2020. Influencer posts made up almost a quarter (3,648) of cases (individual ads complained about) last year.

The report revealed that a record 43,325 complaints across all media were received in 2021, amounting to more than 22,000 cases. Online was the most complained about advertising media, accounting for almost half of all complaints and almost two-thirds of cases. Complaints about online ads were up 19% compared to 2020, but case numbers remained broadly static.

Paid-for ads on websites, social media and apps saw an increase of 39% in complaints year-on-year, with a 14% jump in cases.

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