Celebrities, influencers, including virtual influencers—digitally created fictional characters—are now obligated to provide clear disclaimers if they are presenting themselves as health experts or making any health-related claims, as per the additional guidelines by Ministry of Consumer Affairs, on August 10. According to the press release issued by the government, these guidelines are an “extension to the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022 and in lieu of the ‘Endorsement Know-hows!’ guide released on 20th January 2023”.
The additional guidelines which cover certified medical practitioners, health and fitness experts, celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers, aim to address issues related to “misleading advertisements, unsubstantiated claims and ensure transparency in health and wellness endorsements”.
Why it matters: It is important to note that some influencers are infamously known for spreading misinformation, violating rules of conduct, and cheating consumers. Misinformation pertaining to health-related subjects has become a nuisance across social media platforms and YouTube, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, which called for stricter rules for creating health content on the internet. It is also equally important to ensure stringent compliance to ensure effectiveness of the guidelines.
What do the guidelines say?
On disclosure and disclaimer:
As per the guidelines, certified medical practitioners and health and fitness experts who hold authorised certifications from recognised institutions must disclose that they are certified health experts if they are sharing information, and promoting products or services or making any health-related claims.
On the other hand, celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers presenting themselves as health experts or medical practitioners, must provide clear disclaimers, when promoting products or making any health-related claims. The disclaimer must clarify that “their content should not be seen as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment”.
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Additionally, while promoting such products endorsers are obliged to encourage audiences to seek advice from health professionals for making any changes to their diet, exercise or medication routines.
For example, while promoting a health product, influencers can include a statement like:
“As a certified nutritionist. I recommend…..” or “With my background in personal training, I find this product helpful for…”.
The guidelines state that the disclosure or disclaimer is necessary when endorsers are talking or making claims about health advantages. These also include advantages “derived from food items and nutraceuticals, disease prevention, treatment or cure, medical conditions, recovery methodologies or immunity boosting, etc. This disclosure or disclaimer should be displayed during endorsements, promotions or at any instance of making health-related assertions”.
Fact-checking information shared:
An endorser will have to indulge in necessary home work to know the product well before promoting it. The guidelines require endorsers to conduct a “thorough review” and substantiate the claims made in the advertising or promotional content before endorsing a product or service. “They shall conduct adequate due diligence before endorsing any product or service. They may, preferably, use or experience product or service to the extent possible before endorsement,” the guidelines add.
In addition, endorsers will also have to ensure that the information or advice they share is substantiated with necessary facts. They must also provide relevant sources or citations wherever necessary to back their claims. Endorsers are refrained from making “false, misleading or exaggerated claims” that could potentially mislead viewers.
Endorsers who share general health and wellness advice that is not specific to any product or any health condition or outcomes are not covered under these regulations. However, celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers engaging in transmitting health-related information are required to make a distinction between their personal views and professional advice and must refrain from making any specific health claim without enough evidence.
Examples of general wellness and health advice include, ‘Drink Water and Stay Hydrated’, ‘Exercise Regularly and Be Physically Active’, ‘Reduce Sitting and Screen Time’, ‘Get Enough Good Sleep’, ‘Drink Turmeric Milk for faster recovery’, ‘Use sunscreen daily to protect from harmful UV rays’, ‘Oiling of hair for better growth’, etc.
It is important to note that endorsers must not advertise any health and well product or service that relates to information about a disorder or condition that’s prohibited from being advertised under any law or regulations in force. The guidelines prohibit any endorsement or distribution of information or advertisements about any health and wellness product or service in a manner that implies or encourages its usage for diagnosing, curing, alleviating, treating or preventing any such disease, disorder or condition.
Compliance measures: Non-compliance with the guidelines will attract penalty in accordance with the Consumer Protection Act 2019 and other relevant legal provisions related to sharing of misleading, false or harmful information.
Further, “Celebrities, Influencers and virtual influencers must cooperate with any investigation by the relevant authorities concerning the authenticity of any claim made by them in any endorsement,” the Ministry stated.
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