Influencers ‘lure’ teenage followers to plastic surgery and gambling sites

Influencers ‘lure’ teenage followers to plastic surgery and gambling sites
Competition promoted by some social media stars urges fans to follow unverified pages

Millions of fans of social media influencers are being encouraged to follow accounts that promote gambling and cosmetic surgery, a watchdog has found.

Social media stars such as Love Island contestants Belle Hassan and Kendall Rae Knight, both of whom have hundreds of thousands of followers online, are just two of several British influencers who have been promoting such accounts as part of a competition.

Their participation in the competition has been labelled “dangerous and irresponsible” by anti-gambling campaigners and cosmetics surgery regulators as young teenagers are the most likely followers of influencers such as Hassan, 23, and Rae Knight, 29.

According to Save Face, the non-surgical cosmetic treatment industry watchdog, the reality TV stars have been promoting 75 Instagram accounts run by Play Social, a social media marketing company.

Followers are urged to follow Play Social and all the Instagram accounts the company follows, in order to enter a “huge giveaway worth thousands” in the hopes of winning Louis Vuitton handbags, an iPhone 12, or a PS5 and Xbox 5 consoles.

As of Monday, both Hassan and Rae Knight’s competition posts remain on their Instagram accounts. According to The Times, Hassan is likely to have been paid £3,000 for a single post to promote the competition.

Save Face’s analysis of the 75 Instagram accounts run by Play Social, which change regularly, found a number of lip injection clinics that are not on the UK national register of accredited practitioners.

It also found accounts promoting horse race gambling, foreign exchange market trading, plastic surgery for breast enhancements, the sale of dogs with clipped ears, teeth-whitening products and sex toys.

The watchdog’s director, Ashton Collins, told The Times that the influencers involved in the competition gave “the impression they know these accounts and therefore have verified or used them in some way”.

She added that those who entered the competition would suddenly see “their feeds flooded” with unverified and potentially dangerous pages, including five lip filler accounts that were not on the UK’s national register of accredited practitioners.

Other influencers who took part in promoting the competition include Callum Jones, 24, also a former Love Island contestant, and Katie Franklin, 20. All in all, Hassan has more than a million followers on Instagram, Rae Knight has nearly 850,000 followers, Jones has more than 830,000 and Franklin has more than 2.5 million subscribers on TikTok.

Jim Orford, founder of Gambling Watch UK, said the competition allowed gambling firms to “exploit the young, the vulnerable and the unwary”.

Play Social’s CEO, Renee Karr, told the newspaper that the competition uses a marketing strategy known as a “loop giveaway”, which she said were “a great way for fans to receive huge prizes”.

She said the influencers were not aware of what accounts they would be asking their fans to follow when they signed up to the campaign, adding: “There are some sponsors who may provide services which are aimed at an older audience or should not be presented to a younger audience.”

Karr said Instagram had technology that prevented younger people entering the competition from following lip filler accounts or those aimed at adults.

“Our intentions are pure and we are just trying to do a business,” she continued.

A spokesperson for Instagram said the social media platform last year introduced a policy to restrict certain posts promoting cosmetic procedures to over 18s, and gambling companies can request age restrictions on their accounts.

Instagram is investigating the accounts brought to their attention and will take action against any that violate their policies, the spokesperson told The Independent.

The Independent has contacted all influencers mentioned, and Play Social for comment.