Child advocates in Mexico want to crack down on misleading influencers on social media

By Aida Pelaez-Fernandez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Consumer and child protection advocates in Mexico mobilized this week to urge the government to enact rules preventing popular online influencers and companies from targeting children with misleading social media hype for junk Appeal to food and other products.

Campaigns led by influencers promoting junk food and other unhealthy products drew the most fire from activists organizing under the slogan “Influencer Law Now.” Proponents have called for tougher Mexican laws on advertising on fast-growing digital platforms aimed at children, a particularly vulnerable group.

“We need more protection for citizens and children,” said Clara Luz Alvarez, a telecoms expert at the Pan-American University of Mexico City, arguing that stricter rules in Mexico should include a required common label to identify all advertising content.

According to recent UNICEF data, one in three Mexican children between the ages of 6 and 19 is overweight or obese. Consumer advocates say social media personalities play an outsized role in food, drink and fashion choices being made by hyper-connected youth who spend significant time on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

“The risk of not having laws is that children and young people are very vulnerable and would be much more exposed to very aggressive marketing techniques and strategies,” said Fiorella Espinosa, who develops nutrition studies at UNICEF headquarters in Mexico.

Espinosa is calling for tougher regulations, possibly including an advertising ban on products that already carry mandatory labels warning of excess sugar, calories or saturated fat. She said regulations are better than expecting profit-maximizing social media platforms to police themselves.

“Requiring companies to self-regulate hasn’t worked,” she said.

The 2022 Influencer Junk Food study, conducted by Mexico-based consumer advocates Tec-Check and El Poder del Consumidor, documented ad campaigns by eight major companies that hired influencers to sponsor junk food on social media and to spread misleading and harmful advertising These largely unregulated spaces.

“Influencers nowadays promote any kind of advertising and disguise it as a personal recommendation,” said Tec-Check co-founder Fiorentina Garcia at an event to present the study results on Tuesday.

The study focused on social media advertising campaigns on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok from top companies like Nestle and Coca-Cola.

Representatives from Nestle and Coca-Cola in Mexico did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pair of global food and drink makers and others have spoken out in court against the Mexican government’s 2020 labeling law, which requires them to clearly display the unhealthy qualities of their products.

(Reporting by Aida Pelaez-Fernandez; Editing by David Alire Garcia and David Gregorio)


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