Editorial |

He Who Made Me an Influencer

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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TV host Yael Bar-Zohar.
TV host Yael Bar-Zohar.Credit: She’asani Isha / YouTube
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

She’asani Isha (“who made me a woman”) is a proselytization project whose goal is to spread the Jewish religious practices of niddah (sexual abstinence related to the menstrual cycle) and immersion in a mikveh ritual bath among secular women.

Businesswoman Ruthy Leviev Yelizarov is behind the initiative. Guy Pines revealed on his TV show this week that internet influencers such as Yael Bar Zohar and Shay Mika are promoting these customs on the web for pay, without full disclosure – an apparent violation of Israeli consumer protection law.

The use of influencers is fertile ground for hidden advertising on the web. Companies use internet influencers to target teens and the many people who spend hours scrolling through Instagram and TikTok.

An actor or a presenter with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of followers can with a single advertisement for a product, from chocolate to religious values, instantaneously reach a captive, adoring audience that laps up every message.

It is already customary to label paid content on news sites, and every review of a brand name knife set or smartphone gets some label. However, when it comes to someone being paid to promote a product, there is often no full disclosure so as not to harm the presumed authenticity that characterizes the perception of social networks.

However, we should view influencers as people who sell themselves, their opinions and their business as advertising space in every regard.

The result turns social networks into manipulative tools in the hands of interested parties. “Everything that happens today starts with an internet star,” Leviev Yelizarov told Pines. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a product, or yogurt or anything else.” Jewish values, such as not sleeping in the same bed with your wife when she is in a state of tum’ah (spiritual impurity), are a product.

In some states hidden advertising is taken much more seriously. In Europe, advertisers must mark all marketing content prominently and indicate if any payment was made. Israeli consumer protection law prohibits intentionally misleading hidden advertising.

About a year ago the Consumer Protection Authority issued a clarification specifying that the law applies to influencers, who must provide full disclosure when receiving payment for promoting a product on their social media accounts. Failure to do so constitutes deception.

Former Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit criticized the practice and supported a slew of class actions against companies using this practice. In practice, the agency does not engage in enforcement. The result is that teens on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok see innumerable ads. The agency must protect consumers by increasing enforcement immediately.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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