The Regulation of Social Media Influencers, 11 January, Maastricht

BOOK WORKSHOP

11 January 2019
Maastricht University, Faculty of Law 

As people turn away from classical advertising channels such as television, print or radio, social media platforms such as Instagram, Youtube, and more recently Tik Tok, are establishing themselves as marketing outlets in the search of consumer engagement. Powered by the generation of online content by their users, consumers who produce content – or in other words prosumers, these platforms now feature hundreds if not thousands of popular individuals who amass impressive amounts of followers. Active in any possible industries that appeal to their followers, ranging from gaming to pets, lifestyle, beauty or health and fitness, social media influencers continuously create content for their fans to keep them updated on different products and services, in the form of reviews.

On the one hand, empowering users to start their own channels or accounts and be able to gather revenue as an alternative to a classical job sounds promising: there are no market entry requirements, it provides the much-coveted millennial work flexibility, and can be a great alternative if job prospects are dire. On the other hand, influencer marketing raises fundamental legal and moral questions. As a lot of the content posted by influencers on social media is sponsored by the companies behind the products or services they review, without any notification: how should the audience draw the line between honest opinions and paid endorsement? What is more, the business models used by influencers are obscure at best. Most influencers start small, very likely as an individual and not as a freelancer or a business, so it is very difficult to tell who owns a specific account and what their obligations are to their audiences: is it a company that must comply with advertising laws and consumer protection, or is it peers, not bound by the same high standard? What happens with content which entails health risks, such as the promotion of cosmetic surgery or medical products? In addition, given that impressionable children between 7 and 15 are constantly present on social media, should they benefit from any additional protections?

This workshop brings together interdisciplinary approaches to some of the less visible issues posed by advertising on social media, and is supported by the Independent Social Research Foundation, the Maastricht European Private Law Institute and the University of Groningen. Each speaker in the event is currently authoring a chapter in the book The Regulation of Social Media Influencers (Elgar, forthcoming 2019), edited by Sofia Ranchordás and Catalina Goanta. The event will also feature a keynote speech by Madeleine de Cock Buning, Professor (Utrecht University /EUI), Chairman of the Dutch Media Authority (CvdM) and Chair of the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) on fake news and disinformation.

The full programme and registration are available here. The workshop is free of charge, but places are limited. Registrations will be open until 5 January. For any additional inquiries, you can send an email to catalina.goanta@maastrichtuniversity.nl.

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How Technology Disrupts Private Law: An Exploratory Study of California and Switzerland as Innovative Jurisdictions

2018 is the first year in history when more than half of the world’s population is online. Since its dawn, the Internet has changed many aspects of daily life. The first wave of the Internet saw a change in communication: the use of e-mails and the rise of Internet browsers facilitated online transactions and marked the beginning of global access to goods. Then came wider access to services, in what is by now called the ‘gig’ economy: Internet platforms started matching demand and supply in sectors such as transportation, tourism and even entertainment. More recently, a new wave of decentralization through cryptography developments in distributed ledger technologies has challenged the fitness of established legal rules and practices and disrupted disrupting the law.

Legal systems have always had adapt to modernity. What is new, however, is that all aspects of human development are moving faster than ever and at an unprecedented scale, with unmatched complexity. By contrast, regulatory solutions for legal questions arising out of technology innovation have been rather slow and random. The legal status of Uber drivers as independent employees has been established in different jurisdictions around the world, but will it also apply to Youtubers? Such case-by-case approaches tend to increase legal uncertainty rather than reduce it. In a recent working paper I completed for the Stanford Transatlantic Technology Law Forum, I looked at a number of private law issues raised by disruptive technologies in two particular jurisdictions: California and Switzerland. The goal of the paper is to map and analyse regulatory responses.

This is an excerpt from a post on the Oxford Business Law Blog. Read the full blog post here.

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Why I didn’t sign the Fundingmatters.tech petition

Thoughts on ethics at the intersection of academic research on law & tech and industry involvement

In 2018, academic storms start on Twitter. One of them has been the public concern surrounding the sponsors accepted by this year’s Amsterdam Privacy Conference. The Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University was hosting one of the panels at the conference until they withdrew. The reason? Data analytics company Palantir was one of the Platinum Sponsors at APC. Palantir has faced a lot of public backlash after different allegations, such as having collaborated with Cambridge Analytica on the Facebook data acquired by the latter, doing commercial data profiling or helping the US government on surveilling its citizens. In a nutshell, Palantir has a bad reputation. This is why a petition was created, fundingmatters.tech, now signed by over 60 academics from around the world, publicly asking for the removal of Palantir from the sponsor list.

As co-authors who have successfully submitted a paper (‘Moving fast and breaking things: Social media, data brokers and unfair commercial practices’) for the ‘Regulation of the information society’ panel, Stephan Mulders and I decided not to sign this petition, and in what follows I will defend this choice and take this opportunity to address some related ethical questions which any academic currently working on law and technology should reflect on.

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Influencers on Social media – Between Law and Ethics

25 September 2018, Brown Bag Lunch
12.15-13.45, MakerSpace (room beside Mensa), University of St. Gallen

Social media has been changing the way in which people communicate, and that is nothing new. The emergence of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube or – more recently –Musical.ly has transformed social interaction in peer-networks. This transformation can be noticed by anyone participating in or observing such networks. What is less noticeable, though, is how business models have changed to benefit from these shifts in social trends.

One industry where business practices have been fundamentally impacted is the advertising industry. While in the early days of social media marketing, social networks were used to establish online brand identity, since 2015 a new advertising concept has been sweeping the online space: influencer marketing. Based on peer empowerment – anyone with a camera and internet connection can start producing content for an online social media platform, influencer marketing is to social media what native advertising is to the news world. Persons with well- followed social media accounts lend their brand image for the endorsement of goods or services, while rarely – if at all – disclosing that their support does not necessarily entail genuine appreciation for the endorsed things, but that such support is paid or bartered for.

This event aims to discuss influencer marketing using insights from private law, ethics as well as journalistic practice. Register by sending an e-mail to isabel.ebert@unisg.ch by 23 September. Exceptionally, Skype connections may also be available for streaming.

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The ‘Private’ in Private International Law – 2018 Maastricht Private Law Lecture by Prof. dr. Symeon C. Symeonides

The Maastricht Private Law Lecture, hosted by the Maastricht Department of Private Law, is an annual event at which a most distinguished scholar is invited to give a lecture on a topic related to the wide field of private law. An interactive seminar with PhD-researchers will follow on the next day.

The 2018 Maastricht Private Law Lecture will be given by Prof. dr. Symeon C. Symeonides.

Symeon C. Symeonides is the Alex L. Parks Distinguished Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at Willamette University, in Oregon, USA. He has drafted three private international law codifications (for Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and Oregon), participated in drafting some EU Regulations and two international conventions, and provided legislative advice to five foreign governments. He has published 27 books and more than 120 articles, some of which have been cited by the Supreme Courts of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel. He is the recipient of six academic prizes and a Lifetime Achievement Award. He has taught at Thessaloniki, Louisiana State University, Loyola, Tulane, NYU, Paris-I, Paris-V, Louvain-la-Neuve, and The Hague Academy of International Law. He is past president of the International Association of Legal Science and the American Society of Comparative Law. He holds two degrees summa cum laude in private and public law from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, an LL.M and an S.J.D from Harvard, and three honorary doctorates.

This event is open to all the community, but registration is required. Register here free of charge.

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