Bethenny Frankley, a former real-life New York housewife, is suing TikTok

A prominent online influencer and reality TV star filed a lawsuit Thursday against TikTok, claiming that the platform failed to crack down on deceptive ads by using its videos to promote fake products.

Bethenny Frankel, who has over 990,000 followers on TikTok and has appeared in the Bravo TV series “The Real Housewives of New York” She says she was scrolling through TikTok on September 16 when many of her followers started asking about an ad they saw showing her promoting a cheap cardigan.

But Frankel, she alleges in the lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, said she never agreed to promote the replica jacket. Instead, she said, a scammer had previously taken a video in which she talked about a different cardigan and edited it to make it appear that he endorsed the imitation. According to the lawsuit, a summary of which was provided to The Washington Post, Frankel immediately posted a video on TikTok alerting her followers to the fake ad and reported the announcement through TikTok’s content reporting system. Within minutes, her video of the incident was removed due to bullying.

Frankel is now seeking damages from TikTok for the damage the fake advertising has caused to its brand and wants the company to agree to better protect the creator’s image.

“First of all, I want there to be tangible change, whether it’s an act, a law, a process, or a move, that protects content creators,” Frankel said in an interview. “TikTok should make an effort to protect creators and consumers. There are people who bought these products after they saw these ads with me in them.”

TikTok said it takes claims of copyright and intellectual property infringement seriously and provides several portals on its website where users can report content that violates the platform’s guidelines. “We have strict policies in place to protect hard-earned intellectual property and keep misleading content away from TikTok,” said Ashley Nash Hahn, a spokeswoman for TikTok. “We regularly review and improve our policies and processes in order to combat increasingly sophisticated fraud attempts and further strengthen our systems.”

Using video creators like Frankel to market products online has become a major industry in recent years and spending on influencer marketing is expected to reach nearly $16.4 billion by the end of this year, according to industry analysts. influencer marketing center. This market is likely to grow at an annual rate of more than 33 percent between 2022 to 2030, According to Grand View ResearchBusiness consulting firm.

But this growth has not been accompanied by similar developments in guidelines and rules about how influencer photos are used, and content creators say abuse is common.

Influencers’ reputation is built on maintaining trust with their followers. As more content creators post content on TikTok, they say their videos are used for unwanted ads promoting substandard products. The creators said these ads aren’t just a nuisance – they can have serious consequences for the creator’s business.

Frankel said she was inundated with messages for several days when the fake ad was shown on TikTok. “People were saying, ‘I thought you sold out. You are selling these bad products. “It is a violation of me as a brand and a media personality. You can’t decide to just use me as an advertisement day in and day out.”

Vanessa Flaherty, president of Digital Brand Architects, an influencer management company and marketing agency, said such abuse can damage a content creator’s business. “The value of a content creator lies in the way they recommend the products and brands behind them,” she said. “If that is taken out of context and applied to a brand they don’t own and may never want to endorse or support, that jeopardizes their credibility.”

Unsolicited ads can also have legal consequences for content creators. Oftentimes, content creators sign exclusive deals with brands in specific categories. Flaherty said that an advertisement promoting a competing product, even if its form is used illegally, could breach the contract with a brand they have signed a partnership agreement with.

Mitigating these fake ads has been a struggle for influencers and brands alike. In her suit, Frankel asked TikTok to create a way for influencers to internally report unauthorized ads so they can be quickly removed.

A representative from Jenni Kayne, a clothing brand, said the company contacted TikTok in mid-September to report ads for a fake product, featuring influencers including Frankel. Jenni Kayne’s representatives have submitted a trademark testimonial, links to offensive ads, and screenshots from the third-party site, along with an official report to TikTok. The company said the ads had not been removed for at least 10 days.

“It’s been over 20 emails from us that we’ve been begging for,” said Alexa Ritacco, Jenni Kayne’s chief marketing officer. “TikTok took a long time to respond. It was clear that they did not have a protocol for this. We were getting hundreds of direct messages a day about fake ads.”

“Users can report content in the app, and may escalate concerns about copyright or trademark infringement via our website,” said Nash Hahn, a spokesperson for TikTok. “Ad content goes through multiple levels of verification before receiving approval, and we have procedures in place to detect and remove deceptive or violating ads.”

However, some ads still slip through the loopholes and content creators have taken to TikTok themselves to try to get the message across to followers.

Lindsey Albanese, creator of TikTok and founder of an online marketplace TheFileist.comIn a TikTok video for her 656K followers in late September. “But if you see an ad about me trying to sell a bra, that’s a scam. They took my video on TikTok… and edited it like I was talking about their bra.”

She said that attempts to report the issue to TikTok were futile and that the fake advertising was damaging her brand. “It’s very infuriating,” she said on TikTok. “I don’t know if these products were ethically manufactured, and whether this company follows fair labor and wage laws.”

Frankel’s lawsuit alleges that TikTok has not mitigated these problems because it benefits from sales made through fake ads. The lawsuit alleges that TikTok generates revenue through advertising and that fraudsters are paying the company to display ads for their counterfeit goods, and to misuse influencer photos.

The summary of Frankel’s complaint reads: “Although the platform is not an e-commerce site, it facilitates and promotes the sale of products.” “Promoting products, especially fakes, garners millions of views and incentivizes TikTok to increase its revenue streams by allowing fake products to be offered to users.”

“They are using us to sell products, these fake companies,” Albanese said. “Things will only get worse until social media platforms start cracking down quickly. I should be able to email TikTok, let’s say it’s not me and it was immediately deleted.”

Nash Hahn said that from July 2021 through December 2021, TikTok received 49,821 worldwide copyright takedown notices and successfully processed 4,469, or 81.2 percent, of takedown requests by removing infringing content.

In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission Influencing influencers To uncover partnerships, platforms like Instagram and Twitter have since built tools to make partnerships between brands and creators more visible to viewers. However, since most influencer marketing deals are negotiated outside of tech platforms, apps like TikTok may be unaware of fraudulent deals.

To make matters worse, some influencers Fake advertising contentPromote brands as if they had partnerships, to boost their image. Most brands are fine with free ads, but many luxury brands are not.

Frankl said a lot of this could be resolved if platforms like TikTok had a clearer way to address issues between brands and creators. She said influencers should be able to work with platforms to ensure they retain control of their image over the app, and brands should be able to report fraudulent ads or counterfeit products. “I want to be a voice for change in this space,” she said. “I have a platform, I have an impact, and I want to make a difference on a larger scale.” She created an email address for creators who were similarly impacted to join her invite.

There is bipartisan agreement in Congress that something must be done. On Wednesday, Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-F) and Jose M. Billerakis (R-Fla) introduced legislation to combat the sale of counterfeit products online. The INFORM Consumer Act requires that online platforms collect, verify and disclose certain information from third-party sellers.

Jessica Rich, former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Consumer Protection, said lawmakers are increasingly interested in holding platforms accountable for the ads and content they host. She referred to the INFORM law and the movement to the renewal Section 230, which is the legal provision that protects websites from liability for what a third party publishes. “The fact that you have had so many proposals in Congress to hold platforms accountable for the content on their sites tells you that this issue has not been adequately addressed under current law,” she said.

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