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Jail threat for 'influencers' under tough new French law

AFP
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Jail threat for 'influencers' under tough new French law
Photo by AFP

Influencers in France face the threat of prison sentences or major fines under new legislation adopted by parliament on Thursday that is aimed at cracking down on undeclared advertising and fraud.

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Touted as an effort to ensure online personalities face the same advertising rules as traditional media, the bill has made its way through parliament with cross-party support since March, culminating with a vote by the Senate on Thursday.

"The law of the jungle is over," said Arthur Delaporte of the opposition Socialist Party who jointly sponsored the legislation with Stephane Vojetta from the ruling Renaissance party.

"We can be proud of this unprecedented agreement," senator Amel Gacquerre, who piloted the legislation in the senate, said after the vote.

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France is estimated to have around 150,000 influencers, many of whom have a modest audience, but some have millions of subscribers and help set trends in sectors from fashion to video games.

Their commercial activities - accepting money in exchange for promoting a product - are often undeclared and until now they have lacked a specific legal status in France.

The legislation will in theory force them to post the word "advertising" or "commercial partnership" when discussing products they have been paid to advertise, and make a formal contract mandatory.

It prohibits the promotion of cosmetic surgery, tobacco and some financial products and medical devices.

It also tightens rules for promoting sports betting and lottery games, which will be restricted to platforms that have the capacity to prohibit access to minors such as YouTube.

Violators of the rules could face punishments of up to two years in prison and €300,000 fines.

"The party is over for all of those that think you can cheat on the internet," Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire declared earlier this month.

"Influencers create jobs, value. They are in the most part extremely creative, imaginative and bring a lot to the French economy," he told the BFM channel. "Then there are few troublemakers who manipulate, who use their role badly, and cheat consumers."

Some experts say police and prosecutors will face difficulties enforcing the rules for such a huge number of online creators, however, with many of them based overseas in different jurisdictions but viewable in France.

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A high-profile campaign against fraudulent influencers has been led in recent months by controversial French rapper Booba who has dubbed them "Influ-stealers".

In messages and videos posted to his millions of social media followers, he has called himself a whistle-blower and targeted leading personality Magali Berdah in particular, the boss of influencer agency Shauna Events.

"Apart from having no talent, from promoting vacuous culture, of being idiots and not paying their taxes in France, they're ripping people off," he told French newspaper Libération last July.

Berdah denies wrongdoing and has launched legal action.

A collective called AVI (Help for the Victims of Influencers) has begun launching legal action on behalf of people who consider themselves victims of online financial fraud.

One of their targets is well-known French couple Marc and Nade Blata, who offer investment advice while showing off their life of luxury in Dubai. They also deny wrongdoing.

Economy Minister Le Maire has backed Booba, saying he is "right to underline abuses."

At the end of March, the Union of Influencers and Content Creators, set up recently to represent the sector, had welcomed "commendable and essential proposals" to regulate the industry.

But it warned parliamentarians against the risk of "discriminating against or over-regulating" certain players.

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