Girl Guides: Enhanced photos need labels on social media

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By Cristina Criddle
Technology reporter

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Influencers and advertisers should be forced to declare digitally altered photos on social media, the Girl Guides have said.

The charity has backed a proposed law by a backbench MP that would force social media users and advertisers to label images where bodies or faces have been edited.

The bill is designed to address unrealistic portrayals of beauty in the media and online.

Critics have said it is unenforceable.

The Girlguiding Advocate panel, whose members are aged 14 to 25, welcomed the proposals.

The panel cited its own research which suggests around half of young women aged between 11 and 21 regularly use apps or filters to make photos of themselves look better online.
media captionDo you retouch your selfies?

“The ‘perfect’ images girls are encountering in their daily lives are having a devastating impact on self-esteem and confidence,” said 15-year-old panel member Alice.

“These enhanced images create a false society where how girls look is perceived to be the most important aspect about them.”

Dr Luke Evans MP, a Tory member of the Health and Social Care Committee and a GP, was inspired to introduce the bill after seeing first-hand the effects of these images on people’s mental health.

“We know how damaging this is, as you’re warping people’s perspective of reality, whether that’s slimming down for women or bulking up for men,” he added.

Existing laws

The law would require advertisers, broadcasters or publishers to display a warning label when bodies or faces are digitally altered.

Similar legislation already exists in France. There, any commercial image that has been enhanced must feature a label of “edited photograph”, or companies face a fine.

The stock images agency Getty has also banned retouched images from its commercial category.

Dr Evans has met the Advertising Standards Agency – which has previously banned some airbrushed advertisements – and hopes to have talks with social media firms soon.

He said he would like to see rule-breakers apologise and issue a correction, or be fined.

Technology reporter Cristina Criddle in two photos, one edited and the originalimage copyrightBBC/Cristina Criddle
image captionTechnology reporter Cristina Criddle edited this photo on a free app in under 10 minutes to illustrate extreme editing

‘Unrealistic beauty’

Some have said this would be difficult to enforce on social media, as it would rely on users policing themselves or others reporting them.

“While some pictures look obviously edited, there are still fine tweaks anyone can make, which can be hard to identify,” commented Unsah Malik, author of Slashed: The Ultimate Social Media and Influencer Marketing Guide.

“This begs the question to what extent the new rules will be put in place, and how much we can trust influencers to tell the truth.

“This then leaves us in the same position of setting unrealistic beauty standards.”

Edited selfie of Unsah Malikimage copyrightUnsah Malik
image captionUnsah Malik said it was hard to identify subtle editing

Nick Ede, a brand expert, said there should be flexibility in the rules.

“If you are specifically using a product that you are promoting, and don’t declare that you have manipulated an image, that is false advertising – for example, a face cream and you’ve smoothed out your skin,” he explained. “But if you are posting generic images that are part of your brand, then I don’t think you should have to have any kind of accountability.

“Treating people like they are a packet of cigarettes with what basically is a government health warning is just ridiculous.”

Dr Evans accepts that his recommendations would be hard to enforce.

“Just because it’s difficult in principle, doesn’t mean we should not do it,” he responded. “Social media companies have a role to play, allowing people to see what is true reality.

“These influencers have large audiences and need to be transparent – labelling content is not a huge ask.”

Image of Rahi Chaddaimage copyrightRahi Chadda
image captionRahi Chadda says people should be free to edit their own images

Influencers have spoken out against the proposals, saying it puts too much pressure on them.

One model with more than 700,000 followers said people can follow at their own discretion.

“It is an individual’s choice how they wish to represent themselves through social media,” Rahi Chadda added.

“It impacts their own mental health also. If by editing the photos they feel more confident, then that’s a personal choice which shouldn’t be judged.

“Transparency is something which influencers are working toward at their own pace.”

The Ten Minute Rule Bill will be heard in Parliament on 15 September. If it passes, it can be incorporated into existing legislation or debated in the House of Commons.