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Instagram has recently become a tricky and complicated social media platform. Originally it featured the only user-generated content and photographs. Now the massive service offers 24-hour-long "stories", boomerangs, videos, sponsored content, interactive elements and they recently just rolled out the ability to follow certain hashtags (in the sense that anyone who posts a photo with that specific hashtag will appear on your newsfeed). In my opinion, it is 100% not necessary at all for Instagrammers, especially popular social media influencers, to use defined hashtags such as #ad or #sponsored. In general, hashtags usually only offer the user more likes but are commonly disliked as they are seen as invasive clutter in the caption. These types of hashtags are not mandated by any professional organization or regulatory body, unlike certain journalism practices.
One could strongly argue that it is ethical and socially moral to include these hashtags on sponsored posts. This allows the general public to be aware that it is sponsored content. Because my discipline falls within the communication realm, I would say that I can usually spot sponsored content a mile away. However, my mother would most likely not be sure about what is sponsored and what is not. By using #ad and #sponsored, it helps to build a transparent honest relationship with followers and is not necessarily "tacky'. It is a tool to help build a stronger following.
A better solution to these types of hashtags is to just clearly state in the caption that there is some form of sponsorship involved. Hashtags can definitely ruin the clean aesthetic look of the Instagram news feed. Despite that, social media influencers should turn to adding a sentence in the caption about, "how awesome it was to work and collaborate with @Nike" or whoever the company is. I would argue that while this does not specifically state it is an advertisement, it is completely within ethical guidelines and boundaries to let followers know that you worked and participated in a relationship, paid or unpaid, with that company to give them a specific shoutout. And while some people can easily tell whether or not content is sponsored, it is always safer to go the honest route. Deception will always backfire and hurt you in the future.
Jack Busch, a student in Jon Pfeiffer's Spring 2018 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question:Do Instagrammers really need to use hashtags like #ad or #sponsored? Isn't that tacky? Can't people tell that it's sponsored content without them?
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