Influencers could soon have to admit if their body's been retouched

A new UK bill would make digitally altered bodies in paid posts display a logo to combat a rise in eating disorders. But how effective will it be?

by Tom George
13 January 2022, 4:28pm

Twitter: @yassifybot

In June last year, amendments made to an existing law in Norway made it illegal for influencers to not disclaim when a paid-post on their social media was retouched. Now, it seems the UK is following suit, with a bill put forward for a logo to be displayed on any digitally-altered images of bodies, in an attempt to combat body dysmorphia online.

From April to October 2021, the NHS saw hospital admissions for anorexia, bulimia and eating disorders in young people aged 17 and under rose by 41%, largely believed to be because the pandemic has pushed much of our lives and interactions onto social media. So clearly, action on this dangerous rise is needed. But is this new bill enough?

The new legislation, called the Digitally Altered Body Image Bill, was proposed by Dr Luke Evans, a GP turned Tory MP for Bosworth, Leicestershire, to parliament on Wednesday 13 January. Effectively, the bill calls for greater transparency as to when influencers and brands have Photoshopped, FaceTuned or in any way edited a photo. “If someone has been paid to post a picture on social media which they have edited, or advertisers, broadcasters or publishers are making money from an edited photograph, they should be honest and upfront about it.” Dr Evans told the House of Commons. It would work in a similar way to those pop-up gaming ads you receive that now must state if they don’t contain any “actual game footage”. Or how influencers must now legally state, usually through #ad, #spon or #paid, when their post is in partnership with another brand. This isn’t the first time such a bill has been proposed though. The same MP proposed similar legislation in September 2020 that didn’t get past a second read in parliament. 

When Norway first put forward their leading new legislation last year, one of the issues we raised was that until such guidelines became global, they wouldn’t realistically be very effective. After all, Instagram users in Norway would still have the posts of international influencers appearing on their feed, whose pictures aren’t policed under the country’s powers. Hopefully though, as the UK potentially follows suit, it will be an impetus for more and more countries to put in their own legal framework for the digital alteration of bodies on social media, having a bigger effect on our globalised news feeds and FYPs.

However, much like Norway’s law, the UK bill focuses specifically on paid posts and so digitally-altered pictures on social media that are not associated with a brand partnership or commercial purposes will not need to display a logo. “This isn't about stopping you touching up your wedding photos or removing red eye on a post, it is targeted at those with significant, far-reaching influence and those with commercial intent," the MP added in his Ten Minute Rule Motion, a speech made to parliament after Prime Minister’s Questions. 

Additionally, a question that still remains is how such a law would be enforced. Often apps such as Photoshop and FaceTune are used to edit a photo in subtle ways that may not be obvious to those scrolling past but can still help create a culture that promotes a specific body standard and white or racially ambiguous beauty ideals. If the legislation does pass, it will then go to the Advertising Standards Authority to design the logo and decide in which instances it should be placed. The MP hopes though that the mere existence of the law will be enough to put many influencers and brands off editing paid posts shared online anyway. 

Of course, the bill is still a welcome positive step in the right direction. And with Dr Evans stating the bill has strong cross-party support, perhaps it stands a greater chance of being passed this time.

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