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Influencers play a significant role in the digital contemporary scenario, expressing their opinions, sharing personal experiences and promoting products or services. The new Guidelines of the Italian Authority for Communications Guarantees (AGCOM), published on 16 January 2024, mark a major step towards regulating the activities of professional influencers in Italy.
According to the new AGCOM Guidelines, influencers are identified as those who have control over the creation, production and organisation of the content they publish and who carry out an activity similar to that of audiovisual media service providers. However, not all influencers fall into this category.
The influencers subject to AGCOM’s rules are only those who meet certain key requirements. Firstly, they must have at least one million followers on various platforms and social media: this impressive number indicates the extent of the influence of such individuals on their audience.
Furthermore, influencers must demonstrate an ongoing commitment to promoting products or services. Therefore, influencers who have published at least 24 pieces of advertising content in the previous year must comply with the Guidelines. This requirement is necessary in order to demonstrate that the influencer’s activity goes beyond simply sharing occasional content.
Finally, influencers must keep an engagement rate of 2%: this means that it is not enough to have a large number of followers; it is important to actively interact with one’s audience.
According to the new AGCOM Guidelines, influencers must abide by a series of strict ethical and legal obligations in their business.
These rules were introduced to ensure transparent and respectful online communication and to protect the public and underage children from the negative effects of harmful or misleading content. The main obligations imposed on influencers are:
For breaches of provisions related to advertising transparency, AGCOM has set fines ranging from EUR 10,000 to EUR 250,000, and for violations of obligations to protect underage children, fines ranging from EUR 30,000 to EUR 600,000. These penalties are designed to make influencers recognise the responsibility they have towards their audience and comply with regulations to ensure transparent and respectful online communication.
The new AGCOM Guidelines are merely the first step in a broader regulatory path, as the Italian Authority is committed to outlining a comprehensive regulatory framework to ensure transparency and fairness in the online business of influencers.
The regulation of influencers in Italy raises a crucial challenge: balancing freedom of expression with the need to protect the public.
The Guidelines set out to do just that, seeking to create common ground in which influencers can operate within the rules without compromising their ability to communicate with their audience. Freedom of expression is a fundamental pillar of this interaction, allowing influencers to communicate directly and spontaneously with their followers.
However, with a large and diverse audience – which also includes underage children – the need arises to protect the rights and welfare of those exposed to influencers’ content. The AGCOM Guidelines focus on this aspect, imposing a number of obligations to ensure that uploaded content does not damage human dignity, incite violence or discrimination, or harm the rights of underage children.
The challenge for regulators, such as AGCOM, is to find a balance between these two aspects. On the one hand, it is important to safeguard the freedom of expression of influencers, allowing them to communicate openly and authentically. On the other hand, it is essential to protect the public from harmful or misleading content, especially when it comes to young and impressionable audiences.