In Turkey, until recently, there were no special provisions, laws, regulations or self-regulating rules relating to advertising through social media. In this respect, general advertising rules and principles were to apply. The control and supervision of advertisements on social media were also subject to the laws, regulations and provisions which apply to advertisements conducted through other media channels. It was considered that the advertisements published on social media and the influencer marketing method should adhere to the general principles of legal dispositions in the field of advertising in Turkey, such as accuracy, honesty, non-misleading, conformity to public order, and not causing unfair competition.

Advertisement Board enacted “The Guideline on Commercial Advertisement and Unfair Commercial Practices Conducted by Social Media Influencers” (“Guideline”), which was prepared based on Consumer Protection Law to serve as a basis for examinations of commercial advertisements and unfair commercial practices run by Social Media Influencers, and put into force as per its decision No.2021/2 on May 04, 2021.

The Guideline aims to guide advertisers, advertisement agencies, media organisations, and all persons, institutions and establishments involved in commercial advertisement and commercial practices conducted by social media influencers. The Guideline covers all kinds of commercial advertisements and practices run by social media influencers towards consumers.

With the Guideline, the definitions of “social media” and “social media influencer” have been legally made for the first time. Accordingly, social media is defined as a real person or legal entity that allows users to create, view or share contents such as text, images and audio on the internet for social interaction purposes within the scope of Law No. 5651 on Regulation of Internet Broadcasts and Prevention of Crimes Committed through Such Broadcasts. A social media influencer is defined as a person engaging in marketing communication via social media account to provide sales or rental of goods and services offered by themselves or an advertiser to inform or persuade the target group.

The Guideline emphasises the general principles of advertising law applicable to advertisements conducted on social media and by social media influencers. The Guideline also specifies some principles regarding how testimonial advertising and hidden advertising provisions shall apply to advertisements performed by social media influencers.

Under the Guideline, the social media influencer is prohibited from sharing a product or service which has not been experienced yet, for commercial advertising purposes, in a way that will confirm or create the perception in consumers’ eyes that good or service has been experienced.

In the Guideline, it is once again explicitly indicated that advertisements through social media influencers must be clearly and comprehensibly expressed and distinguishable within the scope of the hidden advertising ban that dominates the advertising law. It is stipulated in the Guideline that hidden advertising is prohibited in oral, written and visual form on social media and all kinds of communication devices.

Accordingly, it is strictly prohibited for the social media influencer to create the impression that a good or service that is given as a gift by the advertiser as purchased by the influencer; of being solely a consumer while providing financial gain or benefits such as free or discounted goods or services regarding the commercial advertisement of a good or service.

In the posts where financial gains or benefits such as free or discounted goods or services are provided from the advertiser, the social media influencer must indicate this explicitly with various statements regulated in detail in the Guideline, depending on the platform on which the commercial advertising takes place. To this end, the advertisements featured on social media are categorised into four groups according to the platforms as follows: advertising on video-sharing platforms (such as Youtube and Instagram TV), advertising on photo and message sharing platforms (such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter), advertising on podcast platform, advertising on platforms on which the content is visible for a short time (such as Snapchat and Instagram)

Stating various expressions specified by the Guideline for each platform, the social media influencer should explain that the relevant post is a promotion to the consumers. Although the expressions in the Guideline are quite diverse for each platform group, they are generally intended to indicate that the said post is an advertisement. Although the statements are variable for each group of platforms, they include hashtags such as #Advertisement, #Sponsor, #Collaboration and statements such as “This video includes [advertiser’s] advertisement.”

The advertisers, advertisement agencies and social media influencers are separately liable for the Guideline violation. The incompliance with the Guideline constitutes the violation of the dispositions on hidden advertisement as per Consumer Protection Law and the Advertising Regulation, and the sanctions of suspension of the advertisement or administrative monetary fines may be imposed.