Social media ‘influencers’ are being reined in under new UAE laws - will other Gulf nations follow lead?

UAE moves to license social media influencers will offer protection to online consumers, proponents say. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Social media ‘influencers’ are being reined in under new UAE laws - will other Gulf nations follow lead?

  • With armies of online followers seduced by celebrity, so-called social media ‘influencers’ are turning unchecked power into profit
  • Now regulators are looking to rein in what some claim is a runaway industry, with a UAE initiative being watched by the world

ABU DHABI: They are the self-proclaimed fitness gurus, gaming addicts, beauty bloggers and fashion experts who use their online popularity to influence our buying decisions, lifestyle choices and even careers.
Now regulators are looking at the way these so-called “influencers” accept payments from brands and agencies to capitalize on their social media presence.
A move by the UAE to regulate the growing online world of paid social media is likely to be rolled out across the GCC in a bid to bring in tighter controls on the thriving industry, experts say.
In recent years, brands increasingly have been using social media influencers as the face of their advertisements. These influencers — for a fee — place products in the social spotlight by endorsing them on their social media platforms, where some have hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of followers.
In a bid to regulate this young industry, the UAE’s National Media Council (NMC) announced new measures in March that make it mandatory for all paid influencers to obtain an e-media license, as well as a trade license if they are not working through an agency.
Tanaz Dizadji, founder and CEO of Brand Ripplr — a platform that connects influencers and brands across the MENA region — welcomed the move.

It is only right the UAE has sought to protect consumers and brands from the misuse of influencer marketing.

“For too long, the industry has been unregulated, and it is only right that the NMC has sought to protect both consumers and brands from the misuse of influencer marketing,” he said.
Dizadji said that it is a question of when, not if, the rest of the GCC follows the UAE’s move.
“Whether other GCC countries will follow the UAE licensing approach is yet to be seen, but transparency of paid posts will certainly be demanded. You can already see the social giants building new features to ensure such transparency, so it will become the norm.”
Within a month of the UAE’s new measures being announced, more than 500 licenses were issued to social media influencers, influencer agencies and online media companies, according to Dr. Rashid Al-Nuaimi, NMC executive director of media affairs. The NMC told all government departments and companies in the private sector across the emirates to work with only licensed influencers.
Those who simply wish to blog as a hobby or pastime will not need a license. But influencers who receive payment for promoting a brand or goods must have a license, which are available in three categories and cost about 15,000 dirhams ($4,000).
The e-media license has to be renewed each year at the same price. Penalties for failing to do so include fines of up to 5,000 dirhams, verbal or official warnings, and/or closure of the website or account.
“The new regulations promote and develop an advanced legislative and regulatory environment for the UAE media sector, keeping it up to speed with technological developments that have transformed media,” NMC director-general Mansour Ibrahim Al-Mansouri said at the time.
As with any new regulation, there has been confusion, with some companies using the measures as a way to unethically demand “influencer exclusivity,” tying an influencer to certain brands and reducing the number of potential employers.
“There has been a lot of commotion,” Dizadji said. “Some agencies have seen the new legislation as an opportunity to enforce ‘influencer exclusivity’ without justification. However, this will lead to the over-commercialization of influencers and further inflate influencer pricing in the market.”
Dizadji said that the initial reaction to the legislation had been “one of confusion,” but “now the laws have started taking effect, it has been easy for us to reach out to our influencers and reassure them.”
Some social media influencers have joined agencies such as Vamp and Brand Ripplr, which cover them under an e-media license, cutting costs.
“Our influencers are welcoming a move that meets industry standards without crushing their ability to create awesome content and collaborate with the right brands,” Dizadji said.
He said that it was difficult to estimate the number of social media influencers in the UAE. “There are thousands claiming ‘influencer status,’ but brands need to understand the data behind the social media masks to decide if these ‘influencers’ have real influence.”
The NMC’s new regulations are set to professionalize and legalize many aspects of the influencer industry, providing legal protection for both clients and influencers. It will also encourage global companies selling media content online from abroad to apply for a license and open offices in the UAE — a boost for the country’s economy.
Vamp, a joint venture with Motivate Media Group — Gulf Business’ parent company — was the first official influencer agency allowed to cover influencers exclusively registered with the platform.

Regulations create transperancy, which not only builds trust, but also ensures consistent best practice.

In the UAE, Motivate-Vamp has more than 400 influencers on its platform, all of whom are eligible to operate under the new agency license.
Karl Mapstone, Vamp’s business director, believes other GCC countries could follow the UAE’s step to regulate the industry.
“Media bodies all over the world are watching how these new licenses will affect the social media landscape for influencers in the UAE,” he said.
“Whether this affects their own regulations remains to be seen.
“Regulations create transparency between the brand, influencer and their followers, which not only helps build trust, but also ensures consistent best practice within the UAE. The new guidelines help influencers and anyone representing brands by making what is expected from them very clear,” he said.
Social media influencer Nadia Rahman, who goes by the name @dubaigirl, also welcomed the move. “The changes will make a positive difference as there are guidelines that must now be followed and, hopefully, no one will misuse social media,” she said.
Regulating the growing online social media industry is not limited to the UAE.
In Egypt, legislators have approved the first reading of a bill that would monitor popular social media users to combat “false news.”
Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have become one of the last forums for public debate in Egypt since a November 2013 ban on all but police-approved gatherings, and more than 500 websites have so far been blocked, according to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression.


                            SIX OF THR BEST SAUDI INFLUENCERS


Dyler


Dyler (real name Abdulazizi Al-Dulaijan)

With more than 3.9 million subscribers on YouTube, Dyler (real name Abdulazizi Al-Dulaijan) gained fame for his vlogs on daily life and travels, and reaction videos to fellow social media celebrities. The 17-year-old’s rap video clips have sparked controversy. His most popular song, “Samoly” (“A loaf of bread”), gained 10 million views in 10 days.

Sara Al-Wadaani

Sara Al-Wadaani

The social media influencer (@sarah_wad3ani1) is known for her unique work in cinema make-up. Al-Wadaani has 1.5 million followers on Instagram, but shares mostly on Snapchat. Her daily life makes up most of the content. She recently celebrated her wedding in the Maldives, with photos and videos of the event going viral.

Moshaya

Moshaya

Has 5.9 million subscribers on YouTube and is now a full-time vlogger. Made a name for himself with spontaneous videos of everyday life with his three children, Anas, Iman and Yusuf. Involving his family had been key to his online success. Moshaya has been vlogging since 2010 and is one of the most successful Arab YouTubers.

Model Roz

Model Roz

The Los Angeles-based fashion model has 8.6 million followers on Instagram (@model_roz). Roz was born in 1992 in Madinah city, Saudi Arabia, and says she wanted to model professionally since childhood. On her social media accounts, mainly Snapchat, she shares her daily life with followers and offers fashion advice.

Mohammed Sal

Mohammed Sal

Saudi vlogger (@MoaSalem) is known for the eponymous YouTube channel detailing his everyday life. The 28-year-old started the channel in 2010 and now has more than 550,000 subscribers. He also has more than 2 million followers on Instagram.
His popularity has led to work as a television presenter and actor.

Adwaa Al-Dakheel

Adwaa Al-Dakheel

The businesswoman and stock analyst is considered one of the most inspiring Saudis on social media.
She is a winner of three Capital Trading Market competitions, a professional guitarist, author of a best-selling book, a licensed pilot and one of the most influential figures on social media in the GCC region — all at the age of 25.


WhatsApp dirty tricks alleged in Brazil presidential race

Updated 19 October 2018
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WhatsApp dirty tricks alleged in Brazil presidential race

  • Leftist candidate Fernando Haddad accused frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro of using WhatsApp to unleash fake news messages
  • here are 120 million WhatsApp user accounts in Brazil, whose population is 210 million
SAO PAULO, Brazil: Allegations of a dirty tricks campaign on WhatsApp dominated Brazil’s presidential election race on Thursday, turning attention to social media manipulation following abuses uncovered in the last US election and Britain’s Brexit referendum.
Trailing leftist candidate Fernando Haddad accused the far-right frontrunner, Jair Bolsonaro, of “illegal” electoral tactics after a report that companies were poised to unleash a flood of WhatsApp messages attacking him and his Workers Party.
Bolsonaro denied the allegation, tweeting that the Haddad’s Workers Party “isn’t being hurt by fake news, but by the TRUTH.”
The exchange happened 10 days before a run-off election that polls predict Bolsonaro — a bluff, Internet-savvy, pro-gun polemicist often compared to US President Donald Trump — will likely win comfortably.
Ordinary Brazilians told AFP they got much of their election information through WhatsApp. They said some in their families or entourage swallowed some misinformation, but denied they themselves were being influenced.
“We get a lot of news, even false news, but some true, about politics but I don’t think it changes very much in terms of making decisions,” said Ana Clara Valle, a 27-year-old engineer in Rio.
She said she was voting for Bolsonaro because of his Catholic, pro-family stance, not because of any “extreme right” sensibility.
Andre de Souza, a 35-year-old lawyer leaning toward voting for Bolsonaro, said he receives around 500 WhatsApp messages a day for and against both candidates.
The rumors and false information “don’t make a difference to me,” he said, but added: “My mother received a WhatsApp message saying Bolsonaro was doing away with (mandatory) end-of-year salary payments, and she believed it!“

Support by companies
Haddad made his accusation after Brazil’s widest circulation newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo, reported it had discovered contracts worth up to $3.2 million each for companies to send out bulk WhatsApp messages attacking the Workers Party.
“We have identified a campaign of slander and defamation via WhatsApp and, given the mass of messages, we know that there was dirty money behind it, because it wasn’t registered with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal,” Haddad told a media conference in Sao Paulo.
Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Tiago Ayres, told the financial daily Valor there was no evidence of any connection between the companies mentioned by Folha de Sao Paulo and Bolsonaro’s campaign.
The row shone a light on an issue that has become a pressing one in democracies: the organized abuse of social media to sway public opinion in countries.
Facebook — which owns WhatsApp, as well as popular image-based network Instagram — is the most prominent company that has come under scrutiny, though Twitter has also come in for criticism.
The platforms have made an effort to clean up who uses their services after evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US election that saw Trump triumph, and accusations Facebook allowed user data to be harvested to bolster the campaign the same year for Britain to leave the European Union.
Facebook has also shut down disinformation pages traced to campaigns believed to have ties to Iran’s state-owned media and to Russian military intelligence services.

No foreign interference
There is no evidence of foreign interference online in Brazil’s election.
The director of major polling firm Datafolha, Mauro Paulinho, said on Twitter that his company had detected “some shifts” in public opinion just before the first round of the election on October 7, which Bolsonaro won handily.
“Technical and factual observations” were made, he said, without drawing any conclusions.
There are 120 million WhatsApp user accounts in Brazil, whose population is 210 million. The app works as a popular social network for friends, families and work colleagues.
Both Haddad and Bolsonaro are the subject of memes, cartoons and slogans circulating online in Brazil.
Haddad, a former education minister and ex-mayor of Sao Paulo, has repeatedly tried to draw Bolsonaro into televised debates on policies.
The leftist candidate has an academic background he believes would give him an advantage if the exchanges moved away from the one-line quips and insults that characterize most social media communications.
But Bolsonaro, who skipped early debates because he was recovering from a knife stab wound after being attacked by a lone assailant while campaigning last month, has thus far shown little inclination to go head-to-head with Haddad.