Endorsements on social media: An empirical study of affiliate marketing disclosures on YouTube and pinterest

Arunesh Mathur, Arvind Narayanan, Marshini Chetty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Online advertisements that masquerade as non-advertising content pose numerous risks to users. Such hidden advertisements appear on social media platforms when content creators or “influencers” endorse products and brands in their content. While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires content creators to disclose their endorsements in order to prevent deception and harm to users, we do not know whether and how content creators comply with the FTC’s guidelines. In this paper, we studied disclosures within affiliate marketing, an endorsement-based advertising strategy used by social media content creators. We examined whether content creators follow the FTC’s disclosure guidelines, how they word the disclosures, and whether these disclosures help users identify affiliate marketing content as advertisements. To do so, we first measured the prevalence of and identified the types of disclosures in over 500,000 YouTube videos and 2.1 million Pinterest pins. We then conducted a user study with 1,791 participants to test the efficacy of these disclosures. Our findings reveal that only about 10% of affiliate marketing content on both platforms contains any disclosures at all. Further, users fail to understand shorter, non-explanatory disclosures. Based on our findings, we make various design and policy suggestions to help improve advertising disclosure practices on social media platforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number119
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberCSCW
StatePublished - Nov 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


  • Advertising transparency
  • FTC endorsement guidelines
  • Online advertising
  • Social media
  • Sponsored content


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