Social networks such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are being forced to register with the United Arab Emirates government by the end of June. The new influencer licensing laws, introduced by the UAE’s National Media Council (NMC) earlier this year, apply to “any paid or unpaid form of presentation and/or promotion of ideas, goods, or services by electronic means, or network applications.”
The fee influencers have to pay to get the requisite licence from the NMC is a cool 15,000 dirham. In 12 months time, they need to renew their licence. The average annual salary for workers in the Emirate of Dubai? 52,000 dirhams.
Notably, the cost of obtaining the new licence for “websites and social accounts specialised for online advertising electronic”, as the NMC describes it, is more expensive than attaining a licence to set up a publishing house or news agency. Getting the right permits from the government to shoot a feature film in the UAE is cheaper.
If you don’t register in time, or if you breach the opaque set of rules that influencers will be held to, you can be fined 5,000 dirham, and have your account closed.
The laws will encourage “balanced and responsible media content that respects the privacy of individuals, and protects the public – especially children – from negative or harmful material,” said Mansour Ibrahim Al Mansouri, the director-general of the NMC, at a press conference announcing the regulation. (The NMC, and Dubai’s government, did not respond to interview requests for this story.) Others fear it’ll have a chilling effect on a burgeoning industry.
“Being an influencer is not necessarily a full-time job,” explains Gus Younis, a digital marketing consultant based in Dubai. “For some people it is but for others, especially the microinfluencers, it’s a side gig. It’s people making extra bucks on the side.”
If you’re Huda Kattan, a 34-year-old Oklahoma-born, Dubai-based influencer who posts to her 25 million Instagram followers under the name of Huda Beauty, then the licence fee is a drop in the ocean. (Kattan’s estimated by one count to be able to charge many times that just for mentioning brands in her posts.)
For Chikhalia, who estimates she earns around $4,000 on an average month from her social media support for brands including tourism boards, airlines and food and drink companies (though “my earnings completely depend on the high and low months in Dubai, as during Ramadan time the market gets slow,” she explains), it’s also manageable.
“The law is a good thing,” she says. “It means anybody cannot just wake up and think of becoming a blogger. With the new law, you will have to first register a company. This makes it more difficult, and regulates the market. I will have more credibility.”
“We’ve been getting very positive signs from clients who are more comfortable dealing with agencies rather than individuals,” explains Ahmad Bashour, general manager of ITP Live, an influencer marketing agency which launched in 2016. “We notice that the industry faced and is still facing many challenges”, including opaqueness about the amount influencers should charge for posts to brands refusing to pay influencers for the work done. “The UAE government stepping in and passing on these laws will only reduce these challenges, increase the transparency and basically start cleaning up and setting up a proper base for one of the most exciting industries in recent times,” he says.
Younis worries that increased difficulty – and the enormously costly barrier to entry – may hollow out the roster of influencers available
“I understand why they made the law,” he says. “There’s a lot of influencers who make huge amounts of money and it’s not reported; there are no contracts, nothing.” But setting such a high cost to register, along with the complications of registering (smaller ex-pat influencers who use social media as a side job will have to contact their main employer to transfer their visa from their current employer to a new business they set up to register with the NMC) discounts the vast swathes of microinfluencers, who brands are increasingly turning to in favour of larger, more-followed internet celebrities, because of their higher engagement with their audiences.
“It’s a headache that I’m not sure is going to work for most people,” says Younis. It’ll also have a knock-on effects on the success of campaigns big companies hire smaller influencers for.
Losing microinfluencers will result in less competition and price inflation, he reckons. “A lot of brands won’t see the return on investment we used to see from microinfluencers. It’ll have negative effects.”
Chikhalia’s willing and able to pay the fee, so will stay competitive in the influencer world. “I’m excited for the change as now there will be few[er] bloggers who would register,” she says. “Genuine bloggers put their effort and time [into their work] whereas people who are there just for the freebies get the advantages as the PRs prefer them since they’re a cheaper option.”
She’s in the process of registering a company and applying for the licence with the help a firm helping her navigate the complexity of the UAE’s laws, who are charging her between £200 and £400 for the process. “These companies know the procedure in and out, so it’s way easier to go with them. Hopefully before June it should be done,” she says.
Many of the law’s foibles and intricacies are unique to the UAE’s position as a home for a largely itinerant population. Previous few people who live in Dubai are actually from there; most are ex-pats. The regulations, which include signing on to a licensing regime, serve two purposes: they allow the emirate to create a database of influencers operating there, and allow the government to drive revenue.
The UAE is a highly conservative, tightly regulated society. A 122-page white paper, published in 2014 by the Emirates’ Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, outlines the rules and regulations of each social network – from Twitter to “Keek” – and repeatedly makes clear that “the laws of the UAE prohibit the publication of content which is contrary to public morals, the principles of Islam and the social and moral welfare of the UAE.”
Source – Wired