Consumer Alert: An investigation reveals big business may have a role in influencing social media influencers

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How many social media influencers can you name?  If you can’t name any, your kids probably can. Social media influencers, many of whom with millions of followers, can sway opinion. But an investigation by The Examiner and The Washington Post calls into question who’s influencing the influencers.

You’ll remember this summer the World Health Organization called into question the possible cancer risk associated with the artificial sweetener aspartame, Shortly after that, the hashtag #safetyofaspertame started trending.  So, the Washington Post and The Examiner started investigating.  And they found out American Beverage, a trade group that represents the soda industry, had paid registered dietitians, as well as a physician and a fitness influencer. Collectively they have millions of followers and they posted 35 videos about the alleged benefits of aspartame. But only 11 revealed in the videos that they were being paid by the big businesses like Coca Cola and PepsiCo.

One dietician from Houston posted a video on Instagram in which she sipped from a glass of soda as she told followers aspartame is great, especially for those with diabetes. When a follower criticized her connection to American Beverage, she said she was insulted by the suggestion that her views would be shaped by a sponsor.

The investigation found that among 68 dieticians, half had promoted food to a combined 11 million followers. For example, one dietician stresses that you shouldn’t deprive yourself of sugar and posts videos eating candy and ice cream.  She’s sponsored by the Canadian Sugar Institute.

The FTC has strongly encouraged influencers to tell their audiences when a video is sponsored, but it’s struggling to keep up with this growing tool for big business marketing.  It’s important to talk to your child about the importance of asking critical questions before believing what they see and hear on social media.