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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Abu Dhabi Q&A Facebook group could close due to new influencer licensing law 

The woman behind the popular group fears it is no longer viable due to the cost of the two permits

Abu Dhabi Q&A is a closed Facebook group that will now require an influencer licence. Dado Ruvic / Reuters
Abu Dhabi Q&A is a closed Facebook group that will now require an influencer licence. Dado Ruvic / Reuters

Online micro-businesses say they will feel the effects of new rules that compel paid social media influencers buy a new media licence.

A popular Facebook question and answer group that allows small paid-for ads is typical of those, as are sites and Instagram accounts that sell goods like video games and sneakers.

The new rules cover a wide range of media activities online but have become known for affecting social media influencers - who promote brands for often large amounts of money.

One example of the small businesses that will be affected is Freya Jaffar, who set up the closed group Abu Dhabi Q&A five years ago, thinking it would attract a few thousand followers. But over the years the group's membership has mushroomed to almost 49,000.

It has now become a full-time operation for the page’s four administrators, who must monitor the group round the clock to ensure all comments comply with the law; however, the group's future has now been complicated by the introduction of plans to regulate the social media industry, first announced in March.

Last week it emerged that influencers would now require two licences – both a trade licence and the special e-media licence with the law coming into force in June.

Mrs Jaffar fears the group may no longer be commercially viable due to the costs of the licences, which will exceed Dh35,000 for her – Dh15,000 on top of the Dh20,000 she has already paid for a marketing licence.

'Is it worth my while?'

She took out the trade licence last year on the back of the increasing demands of running the page, hoping that if she could find a way to monetise it, and administrators could be compensated for their spiralling commitment and associated costs.

“We are trying to work with businesses to say 'look, if you want to advertise, do it transparently. Don’t sneak in the comments. Give it to us',” said Mrs Jaffar, who is from the UK.

She said the group keeps the charges to “three figures” for each advert, but many companies are reluctant to pay. And some even dress up their adverts as charity, she added.

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Read more on influencers:

Social media influencers: what are they and how do they stay on the right side of the law?

$5,000 a post: the power of UAE’s social media influencers

UAE's paid social media influencers will need licence under new media rules

The rise of the influencers and 'retailtainment' in China

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Journalists often use the site as a resource and fail to credit the group, too, she said. And some publications surreptitiously promote their stories through the site by posing as members of the public when they are in fact editors or the writers of the articles, she said.

“And for these businesses that don’t want to pay us, I have to in my own time go and protect their reputation by removing comments. So I am still working for them because I have to follow the laws of the country,” said Mrs Jaffar.

“That’s why I am thinking, 'is it really worth it? Is it worth my while to do this?' Because just as I am about to make money, crawling, now this influencer licence has come along and my legs will be broken before I am walking.”

The National Media Council says the move is necessary to professionalise what is in parts an unregulated industry.

NMC director general Mansour Ibrahim Al Mansouri in March said that "today, electronic media has become a highly influential and widespread tool; it is imperative that we enhance its reliability".

Influencers and social media businesses also said there is a need to bring 'integrity to an unregulated market'.

For Mrs Jaffar, she is weighing up her options.

She posted a message on the page this week asking members how useful the group was to members, prompting a flood of more than 280 comments.

“This group has helped me time and again since I joined maybe six months ago. The Skype problem, tipping waiters, the speed limit on roads, etc...,” wrote one member.

“It would be a great loss for me should this group close down.”

Mrs Jaffar now has less than two weeks to decide whether to apply for the e-media licence. She is currently in talks with a potential partner about setting up a social media company, which will require the e-media licence. If it comes off in time, she will be able to justify the cost and keep the page going, she said. If not, she is unsure.

“Is it really worth all of the effort now? I am still seeing how it goes.”