INDIANAPOLIS – Recent debate over the safety of diet soda is raising questions about how much online influencers should disclose about their relationships to companies and organizations that pay them.
A report by The Examination points out that over the summer, when the World Health Organization raised questions about the safety of the artificial sweetener aspartame, #safetyofaspartame started spreading on the social media accounts of health professionals. Registered dietitians called the WHO’s findings “clickbait,” “fear mongering” and “low quality science” in an effort to assure consumers that diet soda is safe to drink.
However, according to The Examination, the dietitians failed to clearly disclose that they were paid to post their videos by American Beverage, a lobbying group that represents Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, among other companies. One dietitian told her more than two million followers not to worry about the WHO study.
“In all, at least 35 posts from a dozen health professionals were part of the coordinated campaign by American Beverage,” according to the report.
For their part, the people at American Beverage said the campaign was needed because the WHO findings contradicted the Food and Drug Administration’s findings that aspartame is safe.
So who do you believe? And how do you know if a health professional is being paid to influence you?
Influencers and professionals are required by federal law to disclose that they’re being paid. However, this case is raising questions about how clear those disclosures are. Although the dietitians were not advertising a specific product as a sales pitch, the report by The Examination claims the influencers in this campaign were not very clear that they were paid by the industry that benefits from those sales. Instead, it points out, the text accompanying their videos, used terms like #sponsored or #paidpartnership.”
The Federal Trade Commission already warns influencers that they need to be careful about how transparent they are in these situations. Nobody wants to think their health-related decisions are being influenced because the expert they are listening to is being paid to favor a company or industry for profit.
It’s not clear if this case will prompt any changes to regulations on this. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder to think critically about who you’re listening to, and research their potential motivations.
Meantime, the FTC has a link where you can report an influencer you think is going too far.