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FTC reminds social media influencers to disclose business deals to followers

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Laura Afonso is the face of Buns and Bites, a self-proclaimed “foodie and booty” blog.

“We work with women of all shapes and sizes and we celebrate our bodies while eating the food that we love,” Afonso said.

In three years, the social media influencer from Providence has grown her Instagram following to more than 18,000 people. Most of them are from Rhode Island and they rely on Afonso’s advice for food.

“I post maybe three times a week,” she said.

It’s not just food. Across social media platforms, influencers’ input has exploded, and consumers can find reviews for almost anything.

“It is a very successful, very lucrative business to use social media as a way to reach your target audience, especially younger target markets like Gen Z and Millennials,” said Kristen Regine, a professor of retail and marketing at Johnson & Wales University.

Regine said businesses count on customers connecting with influencers.

“It’s relatable,” she said. “We’re really busy, so it’s great that somebody else is testing out all these products for me.”

“There is definitely more to come as new platforms keep popping up,” Regine added.

Non-traditional advertising still has to follow traditional advertising rules.

“The reality is, these people are getting free product,” Regine said. “There has to be truth in advertising.”

Now, the federal government is reminding influencers they have to be honest about their relationships with businesses and brands.

Disclosures are required by federal law and are meant to help consumers evaluate advertisements. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission released a new guide to help influencers understand when and where they have to make disclosures.

More: FTC Influencer guide

For example, if an influencer is making an endorsement in a video, the disclosure should be right in the video – not just in its description. Influencers are also not allowed to bury disclosures in a sea of hashtags.

According to the FTC, an influencer can’t talk about a product if they’ve never tried it, and they aren’t allowed to give it a positive review if they thought it was terrible.

It’s something Afonso considers for her posts.

“If I’m paid to come into a restaurant, it’s definitely because I want to be there,” Afonso said. “I would never post any content that I didn’t genuinely enjoy.”

Possible violations are evaluated on a case by case basis, according to the FTC’s website.

Susan Campbell ( is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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