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Norway: New Law Targets Social Media Image Retouching

Kate Byng-Hall reports as Norway introduces a law requiring influencers to label when social media images have been manipulated.

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Norway has taken a new step in the regulation of online content, with changes to the country’s Marketing Act requiring influencers, celebrities and advertisers to clearly state when retouching, Photoshop or filters have been used in their social media posts. Failure to do so could result in a fine or even a prison sentence.

The legislation is aimed at undermining unrealistic beauty standards, and is intended to “reduce body pressure in society due to idealised people in advertising” by stipulating that a label must be added to content when “the body of the person in the advertisements [deviates] from reality in terms of body shape, size and skin”.

A Growing Concern

This legislation was passed in a landslide vote on June 2nd, reflecting the growing concern in Norway regarding “kroppspress” (literally “body pressure”), and the effect beauty standards are having on people, especially consumers of social media. The issue is seen as so severe as to be a genuine “societal problem”.

“Through the media and the improvement industry, we are pushed into a ‘false’ perception of reality of what is a normal, desirable and achievable body.” – KariAnne Vrabel, specialist in adult psychology, PhD/researcher

The problem is seen as most prominent among young people, particularly young women and teenage girls. As KariAnne Vrabel explains, “this is probably due to the fact that women's roles are narrower and more strictly defined than men's roles. Moreover, the ideal of the body for women is farther away from an average female body than is the case for men.”

There is significant concern that vulnerability in this area means seeing altered images of female bodies online can be significantly damaging for young women’s selfhood, and “increases the risk of eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, concentration problems and other psychological ailments”.

It is seen as a “societal problem” that people affected by manipulated images will become distracted from what’s really important in life through preoccupation with conforming to the standards which are set online, despite them not existing in reality.

“Body pressure is always there, often imperceptibly, and is difficult to combat. A requirement for retouched or otherwise manipulated advertising to be marked is one measure against body pressure. The measure will hopefully make a useful and significant contribution to curbing the negative impact that such advertising has, especially on children and young people.” – Norwegian Ministry of Children and Family

Bigger Changes Needed?

The law has received some criticism due to the difficulty of enforcing it when it can be difficult to discern whether or not an image has been altered, but it has been widely applauded as a step in the right direction.

Em Clarkson, a British influencer, has said that the UK should introduce similar legislation:

“There has to be some base of which we agree to act responsibly, and I think [Norway's law] is a really good start. We can't say to people stop editing your images, that's not feasible. But to say to them, 'if you're going to do it, you need to be honest', that's great.”

The effect of social media cannot be underestimated. A UK study conducted in 2020 found that the majority of under-18s found social media to be “extremely influential” on their body image, with under 5% of respondents saying they had never felt inclined to engage in dieting or cosmetic procedures to emulate bodies they see online. According to Time magazine, spending more than two hours a day on social media – as many young people do – makes people more likely to report psychological distress through constant comparison.

“Our resources are bound up to understand ourselves based on the body, rather than community engagement, joy of coping, relationships and traits. This marginalises self-life. Nothing else matters. There are other more important things in the world to master that are lost in this [preoccupation].” – KariAnne Vrabel


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