They may only be 140 characters, but according to a Federal Trade Commission report, Twitter posts, and advertisements on Facebook and other social media, must conform to the same standards as newspapers, television and online advertisers.
"One can log on to the Internet day or night and purchase almost anything one desires, and advances in mobile technology allow advertisers to reach consumers nearly anywhere they go," according to the report, which was updated from 2000. "But cyberspace is not without boundaries, and deception is unlawful no matter what the medium."
According to the report, marketers must "place the disclosure as close as possible to the triggering claim." The word "Ad," for example, would be allowed at the beginning of a tweet. So would the word "Sponsored." But #spon, on the other hand, would not fly, because "Consumers might not understand that "#spon" means that the message was sponsored by an advertiser," the report said.
The FTC also requires advertisers to display disclosures before consumers click "Add to Shopping Cart"; to review the entire ad to make sure that consumers won't get sidetracked by text, graphics, hyperlinks or sound that could keep consumers from the disclosure; and also use easy-to-understand language.
"If a disclosure is necessary to prevent an advertisement from being deceptive, unfair or otherwise violative of a commission rule, and it is not possible to make the disclosure clearly and conspicuously," then the ad shouldn't go out.
The report cites an unacceptable example from fake celebrity JuliStarz, who tweeted: "Shooting movie beach scene. Had to lose 30 lbs in 6 wks. Thanks Fat-away Pills for making it easy."
As is, the tweet contains two problems: that JuliStarz failed to disclose that she is a paid spokesperson for Fat-away, and that consumers typically shed fewer pounds than she did.
A better option? "I am a paid spokesperson for Fat-away Pills. Typical weight loss: 1 lb/wk."
Failure to comply can result in a civil penalty ranging from thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the severity of the violation. In other instances, advertisers who failed to comply have been required to give full or partial refunds to consumers who purchased the item.