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How to spot advertising on Instagram

From sponsored posts to celebrity endorsements, we share our top tips for being a critical thinker when it comes to advertising on Instagram.

Instagram advertisements can appear in different places across the platform, from your newsfeed to Instagram Stories. You can spot these adverts by looking out for the ‘Sponsored’ label on the image or video. But it can be harder to spot if a celebrity you follow has been paid to promote a particular product.

Celebrity promotions on Instagram

The Federal Trade Commission this week announced that celebrities and influencers in the USA need to be clearer when they are promoting a product on Instagram and other social networking sites if they have been sponsored to do so.

It’s not unusual on Instagram to see your favourite celebrity talking about their new makeup or other products, but how do you know if they’ve been paid for these posts? We’ve looked at some easy ways to spot advertisements on Instagram and why critical thinking online is so important.

Our top tips:

1) Look out for hashtags

Although this isn’t always the case, one of the easiest ways to spot a sponsored post is through the hashtags used on the post. Many celebrities will use the hashtags #spon, #sp or #ad to show that they have been paid to promote a product as well as the more obvious #Sponsored or #Promotion.

2) Is the product the main focus of the picture?

Always think about what the picture is taken of. Is a product the main focus of a picture or is it simply coincidental. Think about why a celebrity would have posted a picture of an item and if the style of photo is in keeping with the content that they usually post.

3) Thanking the brand

If a celebrity thanks a brand for a product then this is usually an initial sign that the celebrity has been paid by them to promote the product.

4) Check right to the bottom

On mobile Instagram the first three lines of text are usually the ones shown. By clicking ‘read more’ at the bottom of a post you can check if the celerity has posted an indication that they have been sponsored further down in the post.

5) Use critical thinking skills

  • Who - Who posted the image? Are they reliable and what other content do they usually post? Are they coming from a particular perspective?  Think about what they gain from posting this image
  • What? What did they say about the image? Could the image have been edited or show a limited perspective?
  • Why? Why did they post it? How did they want you to feel, or what did they want you to do?

Advice for parents and carers

Have an open and honest conversation: Talk to your children about who they follow and what they like to look at on Instagram. Try our conversation starters to start a discussion with your children about what they like to do online (link)

Discuss adverts

More generally talk to your children about advertising on Instagram and on other social media sites they use. Discuss why someone might promote a particular product and make them aware that promoted content exists.

Critical thinking resources for schools

Created as part of Childnet's work in the UK Safer Internet Centre, the Trust Me resource is great for starting to think about critical thinking online.