Influencers affiliated with the conservative youth organization Turning Point USA are circumventing Instagram’s ban on branded content that promotes weapons and ammunition.
TPUSA recruited hunting industry influencer Kendall Jones and firearms instructor Paige Roux as part of its larger influencer marketing campaign to sell conservative politics to young Americans. When they’re not promoting TPUSA events like the Young Women’s Leadership Summit to their respective 260,000 and 105,000 Instagram followers, Jones and Roux are engaged in dishonest influencer marketing tactics for weapons and weapon accessories, seemingly in violation of Instagram parent company Meta’s policies.
In 2019, Instagram barred influencers from promoting weapons and weapon parts in branded content, which is defined as “content that features or is influenced by a business partner for an exchange of value, such as monetary payment or free gifts.” Despite the ban, weapons companies still rely on influencers to push their products because they’re effective marketers who can help brands sidestep platform rules.
As brand ambassadors for various weapons industry companies, both Jones and Roux have built relationships with and received material benefits from weapons manufacturers — including free firearm magazines and crossbows. However, Jones and Roux aren’t disclosing their material relationships to these brands in tagged content, effectively dodging Instagram’s ban on weapon promotions in branded content and potentially violating Federal Trade Commission rules.
Instagram and Federal Trade Commission regulations on branded content, explained:
In 2019, Meta introduced regulations that ban influencers from promoting weapons and ammunition — including firearms, firearm parts, silencers, suppressors, and other weapons intended for self-defense — in branded content. Instagram also requires that branded content include paid-partnership labels.
Branded content is subject to even stricter regulations set by the FTC, which has cracked down on influencer marketing in recent years in an attempt to protect consumers from deceptive social media advertising. Under FTC rules, influencers must disclose their material relationship with a brand clearly and in a hard-to-miss place on every image, video, and caption when posting affiliate codes, discounts, advertisements, and tagged content. On Instagram, all content with a material connection to a business partner, such as an affiliate link or discount code, should have a disclosure. This disclosure can take the form of a prominently displayed hashtag (e.g. #ad, #paid, #sponsored) or word of thanks for a free product or service.
Despite the fact that noncompliance can result in restrictions on an Instagram account or hefty fines from the FTC, unlabeled branded content — including advertisements for prohibited goods such as firearms, firearm parts, and other weapons — perpetually plagues Instagram.
TPUSA’s Kendall Jones regularly posts unlabeled branded content promoting guns and crossbows on Instagram
Kendall Jones is a brand partner with Guns.com, one of America’s largest online gun retailers, and TenPoint Crossbow Technologies, a crossbow manufacturer that also sells hunting gear. Jones regularly posts unlabeled branded content promoting Guns.com and TenPoint products, including weapons, in violation of Meta policies.
Jones has added disclosures like “#partner” and “#ad” to promotional posts for Guns.com in the past, but many of her recent posts advertising new guns and gear lack proper disclosures. Guns.com has both affiliate and ambassador programs. Affiliates receive 3% to 8% commission on product sales, and although Guns.com is not transparent about its ambassador perks, it is typical for influencers to receive payments and free gear from sponsors in exchange for reviews, videos, giveaways, contests, and more.
While the captions themselves can be vague, weapons are the focal point of Jones’ Guns.com promo posts:
- An April 2023 post directed followers to “Check out @gunsdotcom for your one stop shop for all pew pew related wants/needs,” tagging Guns.com in the caption and on the image of Jones shooting a pistol. The post contained no disclaimer.
- A March 2023 post told followers to “head over to @gunsdotcom to find the newest lucky charm to add to your collection.” Jones posed with a pistol sticking out of her concealed-carry leggings. The post contained no disclaimer.
- In a February 2023 post tagging Guns.com, Jones posed with two large semiautomatic rifles, asking followers, “which one you choosin?!” The post contained no disclaimer, but did instruct followers to “let @gunsdotcom help you show your Valentine some love!”
- An August 2022 post told followers to “check out their certified used guns for BIG savings on great quality products” ahead of “the #LaborDay sales that are going to happen on @gunsdotcom!” Jones paired the caption, which did not include a disclaimer with a video of her shooting a fully automatic rifle at the CMMG gun factory.
Jones also posts unlabeled branded promotions for her partner TenPoint Crossbows, including posts promoting new weapons. TenPoint Crossbows sponsors Jones’ youth hunting program, and Jones has an active affiliate code with the website. While TenPoint is not transparent about its affiliate benefits, Instagram and the FTC’s regulations on affiliate marketing require that Jones disclose her material relationship with TenPoint whenever she promotes the brand to her followers.
- Jones encouraged followers to “check out the NEW 2023 @tenpointcrossbows lineup” featured in her Instagram, highlighting TenPoint’s Nitro 505, Stealth 450, Titan Decock, and Viper 430. The February 2023 video seemingly violated Instagram policies banning influencers from promoting weapons in branded content. It also contained no disclosures about Jones’ affiliate relationship with TenPoint — another apparent violation.
- Jones promoted TenPoint’s “new crossbow— the Viper 430” in a tagged Instagram video posted two days before Christmas 2022. Jones did not disclose her relationship with the brand to followers.
- Jones tagged TenPoint Crossbows in several posts from 2022 promoting her TenPoint-sponsored “Pass It On” campaign, which teaches young children about hunting. Jones did not clearly disclose her material relationship with TenPoint.
TPUSA’s Paige Roux regularly posts unlabeled branded content promoting guns and gun parts on Instagram
Amend2 Magazines counts firearms instructor and TPUSA ambassador Paige Roux as one of the “brand ambassadors, friends, and loyal supporters who love pushing our brand and our message.” While Amend2 is not transparent about ambassador benefits, Roux has thanked Amend2 for free magazines on Instagram. The TPUSA influencer regularly promotes Amend2’s products and services to her 105,000 followers in a likely violation of Instagram’s branded content policies and ban on promoting gun parts.
In addition to skirting Instagram’s policies, Roux is seemingly violating FTC rules by promoting Amend2 without clearly disclosing her material relationship with the brand:
- Roux stocked up on magazines in an unlabeled May 2023 post promoting Amend2’s monthly magazine subscription service: “Not complaining about my collection of colorful mags from @amend2mags,” Roux wrote. “They have a monthly subscription for specialty mags that sell out FAST and don’t come back. Check out my website or theirs for info.” Roux also promoted AMEND2’s “monthly mag delivery” service in November 2022. Roux did not add disclosures to that post, either.
- Roux tagged Amend2 magazines at the bottom of a May 2023 video, noting that the company provided magazines for a gun training sponsored by the Arizona State University chapter of Turning Point USA. Roux boasted, “60 students, 20 rounds each, no malfunctions.” This appears to violate FTC guidelines, as disclosures must be clear and prominent; followers are more likely to miss disclosures placed at the end of posts, so the FTC directs influencers to place endorsements at the beginning.
- Roux plugged Amend2’s magazines in an unlabeled branded video from April 2023. The video showed Roux shooting with Amend2 magazines at a shooting range. She tagged Amend2 in the video and caption, writing, “PS- you can find fun mags at @amend2mags.” To comply with FTC and platform rules, Roux must add disclosures to the video and captions.
- Roux promoted Amend2’s Christmas-themed magazines in another deceptive Instagram video posted two days before Christmas 2022. The text over the unboxing video read, “Christmas came early.” Both the video and caption are missing FTC and Instagram-compliant disclosures.