“Ingrid Goes West” Meets FTC

Three of my passions (law, movies, and social media) have recently intersected in an unexpected way.

Movie poster for Ingrid Goes West

In the recent film, Ingrid Goes West, Elizabeth Olsen plays Taylor Sloane, a nobody who became a social-media maven simply by doing cool stuff while wearing clothes that designers paid her to wear, drinking drinks that manufacturers paid her to drink, and frequenting establishments that proprietors paid her to frequent. That’s how she makes her living.

Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid Thorburn, one of Taylor’s Instagram followers, who wants to be associated with all of that coolness. Ingrid moves to Los Angeles and stalks Taylor’s hangouts to contrive a way to meet her. Of course Ingrid has no idea that she has become enamored with manufactured coolness.

 

The fact that Ingrid got duped by Taylor is really only a sub-theme of the movie, but one that interested me. Taylor’s promotion only of products that she is paid to promote (without disclosing why she is promoting those products) seems to be a nuanced flavor of the “fake news” that has become virulent on social media.

Enter the Federal Trade Commission. For the past couple of years, the FTC has begun to go after companies who have used social media influencers to promote their wares in ways that hide the companies’ business relationships with the influencers. Up until now, the FTC has quietly settled with the companies they informally prosecuted for such misleading conduct. This week, FTC filed its first-ever formal action against one of those companies.

I applaud FTC’s enforcement of transparency. As the saying goes, if you are not paying for the product, you are the product. Companies who advertise on social media or, more indirectly, pay influencers to promote their products, are paying for the attention of social media consumers. As a social media consumer, I’d sure like to know when it is that I’m being sold to.