The Times: Influencers ‘lure teenage fans’ to gambling and surgery sites
Instagram influencers are encouraging their millions of fans to follow accounts that encourage gambling, unlicensed lip filler treatments and plastic surgery.
Former Love Island stars such as Belle Hassan, who has more than a million followers on Instagram, and Kendall Rae Knight, who has nearly 850,000 followers, are among British influencers promoting these accounts as part of a competition for prizes.
Anti-gambling campaigners and cosmetic surgery regulators said that the campaign was “dangerous and irresponsible” because teenagers were the most likely followers of Hassan, 23, and Rae Knight, 29.
The reality TV stars have been promoting 75 accounts on an Instagram page run by Play Social, a social media marketing company. Industry experts say that Hassan is likely to have been paid £3,000 for a single post promoting the competition.
Fans are told to follow the accounts to be entered into a “huge giveaway worth thousands”, in which they can win Louis Vuitton handbags, an iPhone 12, or PS5 and Xbox S consoles.
An analysis of the 75 Instagram accounts, which change regularly, show several lip injection clinics that are not on the UK national register of accredited practitioners to perform such treatments, as well as accounts encouraging horse race gambling and foreign exchange market trading alongside plastic surgeons advertising breast enhancements and accounts selling clipped-ear dogs.
Others were found promoting teeth-whitening products and sex toys. Ashton Collins, from Save Face, the non-surgical cosmetic treatment industry watchdog, said that the competition was “incredibly irresponsible” and that it took advantage of an impressionable audience.
She said of the influencers involved: “It gives the impression they know these accounts and therefore have verified or used them in some way.”
Ashton said that five of the six lip filler accounts being promoted were not on the UK’s national register of Accredited practitioners. She said that girls who entered the competition would have “their feeds flooded” with these unverified and potentially unsafe pages.
All the businesses or people on the 75 accounts will have paid £750 to £2,500 to be on PlaySocial’s follower list. The marketing strategy, known as a “loop giveaway”, has been popularised by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner in the US and is growing in the UK.
Other names promoting the Play Social campaign include Callum Jones, 24, another former Love Island contestant, who has more than 830,000 Instagram followers, and Katie Franklin, 20, who has more than 2.5 million TikTok fans.
The contest was criticised by Jim Orford, founder of Gambling Watch UK and a psychology professor at Birmingham University. He said that it let gambling firms “exploit the young, the vulnerable and the unwary”.
Play Social was set up in 2019 by Renee Karr, after she left university. She said that loop giveaways were “a great way for fans to receive huge prizes”.
She added that the influencers did not know which accounts they would be asking their fans to follow when they signed up to the campaign. “There are some sponsors who may provide services which are aimed at an older audience or should not be presented to a younger audience,” she said.
Karr said Instagram had a mechanism to prevent younger entrants following lip filler accounts or those aimed at adults. Instagram said: “If a post promotes the use of certain weight loss products or cosmetic procedures, and has an incentive to buy or includes a price, we will restrict people we know to be under 18 from seeing that post.”
Karr said: “Our intentions are pure and we are just trying to do a business. All talent that participate in campaigns are choosing to get involved as they get an opportunity to engage with their fans and followers and are able to really give them something to cheer about.”
All the influencers contacted either did not wish to comment or failed to respond to requests for comment.