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New social media requirements for Saudi Arabia
Legal Development 14 September 2022 14 September 2022
Technology, Outsourcing & Data
In a clear reflection of the growing importance of the digital content sector in Saudi Arabia, the media regulator in the Kingdom has introduced a requirement for individuals to obtain a licence prior to publishing advertising content through social media platforms. The programme – known as Mawthooq, which translates as “verified” – will authorise individuals to post advertisements and promotional content on social media.
As the number of content creators in the Kingdom grows, this licensing requirement has been introduced to ensure that social media advertisers and influencers adhere to the Kingdom’s media policies and controls. Those content rules are currently set out in various criminal laws, media/publications legislation and regulatory standards that apply restrictions on both online and offline content, including prohibitions on content that could harm national security, offend public morality or damage the reputation of the Kingdom.
Social media advertisers and influencers must apply for a licence from the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM) before 1 October 2022 to avoid penalties or fines. The application should be made on GCAM’s website and a fee of SAR 15,000 is payable. The licence is valid for three years and will allow for advertisements to be published via an account registered with the Authority. Account holders will need to flag advertising content and must ensure that promoted products or services are properly licensed. The controls apply to all types of online advertisement whether images, video, audio or text.
This latest development is intended to improve transparency and accountability for digital media and advertising in the Kingdom by regulating the activity of social media influencers. The Saudi regulation follows similar principles enacted elsewhere – for example, the US Federal Trade Commission has a set of guidelines for influencers encouraging transparency and disclosure of advertising content (e.g. through the use of hashtags such as #ad or #sponsored) and the UK’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) suggests a similar approach in guidance for influencers that was first published in 2018. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates requires a licence for the operation of social media accounts offering “paid advertising services”.
Influencers in Saudi Arabia will need to align with the new requirements by the deadline and ensure that they are only promoting appropriate products or services. Organisations using social media personalities and influencers for promotions in the Kingdom should ensure that the individuals they work with are duly licensed under the new system.