Some members of conservative youth organization Turning Point USA’s roster of influencers are likely violating Federal Trade Commission rules by posting undisclosed sponsored content to Instagram.
TPUSA influencers Alex Clark, Kendall Jones, Paige Roux, Morgonn McMichael, Lauren Chen, and Isabel Brown -- who hawk the organization’s increasingly reactionary brand of politics — also post sponsored content on Instagram for skincare, wellness, apparel, weapons, and doomsday food prep companies. Many of these posts appear to violate Federal Trade Commission rules, as the influencers do not properly disclose their material connection with the brands.
The FTC regulates influencer marketing to prevent deceptive advertising
The FTC has cracked down on influencer marketing to protect consumers from deceptive advertisements across social media. The agency requires influencers to disclose “when you have a financial, employment, personal, or family relationship” with a brand if posting about the brand, including the sharing of affiliate codes (discount codes specific to one marketer), promotions, advertisements, and content that tags brands. Evidence of material connection can include brand ambassadorship deals, monetary compensation, discounts, gifts, vacations, or other services delivered to ambassadors. Influencers are also required to disclose familial ties to brands if applicable.
The FTC has online guides and a comprehensive FAQ explaining what does and doesn’t count as a disclosure. According to its “Disclosures 101 for social media influencers” pamphlet, disclosures must be frequent, clear, and in a hard-to-miss place like the start of the post or video or in the first line of the caption. They discourage mixing disclosures into a group of hashtags or links, posting disclosures only on an about me or profile page, or making it so followers have to click on the “more” button to see a disclosure.
Simple and clear language like “advertisement,” “ad,” and “sponsored” fulfill disclosure requirements, but merely thanking a brand, hashtagging abbreviations like “collab,” or adding stand-alone terms like “ambassador” aren’t enough.
Instagram influencers must add these disclosures to every story, highlight, reel, or post that endorses a brand. Stories and highlights — short slides featured on the top of a profile page — should have disclosures superimposed on images or videos. Reels — short videos akin to TikToks — must include disclosures in the video and/or caption.
It’s up to the influencer to be familiar with these rules. However, brands generally write up codes of conduct and guidelines for influencers and affiliates because the companies are usually the ones receiving notifications and paying hefty FTC fines.
Here’s a snapshot of TPUSA influencers seemingly violating these FTC rules:
Hunting influencer and TPUSA contributor Kendall Jones has amassed multiple brand ambassadorships from the hunting and weapons industries. She regularly promotes these and other brands to her nearly 260,000 Instagram followers using tagged photos and highlights. Jones has also promoted crossbows in a likely violation of Instagram’s policies barring influencers from hawking weapons.
While these posts advertise products and Jones is receiving material benefits from these brands, her posts often lack FTC-compliant disclosures:
- Guns.com: Jones is part of Guns.com’s “Influencer Team,” and she has added disclosures like “#ad” to promotional posts for the online gun marketplace in the past. However, many of her recent posts advertising new guns lack clear disclosures. Guns.com has an affiliate program where affiliates receive a 3% to 8% commission on product sales. Although Guns.com is not transparent about its ambassador perks, it is typical for gun influencers to receive payments and free gear from sponsors in exchange for reviews, videos, giveaways, contests, and more.
- TenPoint Crossbows: Jones regularly posts unlabeled branded promotions for TenPoint Crossbows, and as of June 2023, she has an active affiliate link on TenPoint’s website. Followers can access the discount by following a link on Jones’ bio leading to her website, which links to the TenPoint affiliate link. While TenPoint is not transparent about its affiliate benefits, the company sponsors Jones’ youth-hunting program.
- Lane Walker Books: Jones has shared affiliate codes for conservative publisher Lane Walker Books’ “Hometown Hunters” series several times without a disclosure. It appears that Lane Walker Books affiliates receive a “10% commission on total referral sales when a customer makes a purchase” through their affiliate link or coupon code.
- FORLOH: Jones did not put any disclosures in a March 2022 post promoting her affiliate discount code with FORLOH, which sells hunting gear. FORLOH affiliates receive a 5% commission for products sold with their affiliate tools.
Paige Roux is a TPUSA contributor and senior firearms instructor at her family’s Arizona gun range, Shooter’s World. Roux is also a gun influencer and regularly promotes weapons, weapon accessories, and other products to her 105,000 Instagram followers. These uploads generally don’t contain hashtags or other evidence that they were sponsored, which is likely a violation of FTC regulations. Some of these posts also appear to violate Instagram’s policies banning influencers from promoting gun parts in branded content.
- Amend2: Roux regularly tags and promotes gun magazine brand Amend2 on her Instagram page without disclosing their material connection — even though Amend2 referred to Roux as one of the “brand ambassadors, friends, and loyal supporters who love pushing our brand and our message” in March 2023. While Amend2 does not seem to post details of its ambassador benefits online, Roux confirmed in a May 2023 post that Amend2 provided her with magazines, which she used in a gun training sponsored by the Arizona State University chapter of TPUSA. However, this disclosure does not seem to be FTC-complaint because Roux’s followers would not know about Roux’s pre-existing relationship with Amend2 and would have had to click the “more” button to know why Roux was tagging Amend2.
- Vigilant CBD: Roux repeatedly plugged Vigilant CBD affiliate links and codes on her Instagram without clear disclosures. Vigilant CBD affiliates earn up to 10% in commissions on successful referrals. Roux wrote on one August video promoting the CBD brand that viewers could “use my code” to save money.
- Eclipse Holsters: Roux posted an affiliate link and discount code to Eclipse Holsters to her Instagram highlights in September 2022 without clearly disclosing any material connection to the brand. Roux also tagged Eclipse holsters in a July video. Eclipse has a brand ambassador program, and according to one advertisement, “influencers will receive Free Gear, Product Partnerships, Gift Cards, Collaborations and more!”
- Springfield Armory: Springfield Armory has sent Roux multiple guns over the years, however Roux has not clearly disclosed her material connection to the brand in Instagram posts tagging Springfield weapons. Last year, Roux promoted Springfield Armory’s Hellcat pistol, which she acknowledged that Springfield sent her in one March 2022 unboxing video. The video and caption endorsing Springfield’s weapon did not contain a clear disclosure.
- SigSauer: Roux tagged weapons manufacturer SigSauer rifles in multiple posts promoting their merchandise and retreats. In March 2023, Roux attended a SigSauer training retreat for women where attendees received gift boxes from SigSauer. If Roux received perks from SigSauer — like free or discounted trips or merch — she must disclose that material connection in her tagged posts, per FTC rules.
TPUSA contributor Lauren Chen is an anti-LGBTQ bigot who uses her social media accounts to spread conspiratorial, far-right misinformation. Chen frequently advertises discount codes and affiliate links for beauty brands and doomsday prep companies in podcast rants shared with her 124,000 Instagram followers. However, Chen has not added clear disclaimers to her posts.
- Genucel: Chen promoted a Genucel eye cream affiliate link in March 2023 without any disclaimers like “#ad.” Chen directed followers to get the cream “for 70% off as part of their best-selling bundle.” As of July 12, 2023, the affiliate code is still active. Genucel is not transparent about affiliate benefits, but the company has used influencers to advertise its products. Unlike Chen, These influencers use paid partnership labels and hashtags, like #ad, on their branded posts.
- Heaven’s Harvest: Chen repeatedly plugged her personal discount code with emergency food site Heaven's Harvest in her Instagram rants. One March 2023 promo contains a promo code with no disclaimer about her material connection to the prepper brand. Heavens Harvest does not advertise its affiliate program online, but the company does have one. Affiliates receive an unspecified commission on all purchases made through their Heaven’s Harvest links.
- 4Patriots: Chen also plugged her discount code with 4Patriots.com power supplies alongside various tirades about Hollywood. The posts contain no disclaimer about the financial benefits Chen likely received from 4Patriots via its referral and affiliate program. Referrers receive $20 off purchases of $100 or more for every redeemed referral code. 4Patriots affiliates can also receive between 5% and 20% on default commissions.
Alex Clark is the host of TPUSA’s POPlitics show and Spillover podcast, which use pop culture to push right-wing talking points. In between spreading misinformation about birth control and telling career-minded young women to give up on their dreams, she promotes the “cuteservative” lifestyle by hawking creams, tortilla chips, and spa services to her 146,000 Instagram followers.
Many of Clark’s posts include affiliate codes and links, which hint at brand ambassador deals. These posts likely violate FTC advertising rules, as Clark rarely discloses her likely material relationship to these brands:
- Nimi Skincare: Clark has repeatedly promoted and shared her affiliate codes with “conservative skincare” brand Nimi on Instagram, podcasts, and in TPUSA articles without disclosing the financial perks she receives from Nimi. According to Nimi, the company’s influencers get a unique revenue-sharing code in exchange for brand promotion — earning “20% commission on all Nimi product sales generated by you with your exclusive promo codes.” Clark most recently promoted Nimi without any hashtags or other disclosures denoting her material connection to the brand in a December highlight.
- HigherDOSE: In January 2023, Clark shared an affiliate link from wellness brand HigherDOSE without including a disclosure about receiving financial benefits from products purchased via her affiliate link. HigherDOSE affiliates earn a 15% commission from sales made with commission links and receive discounted products from the brand.
- Masa Chips: In 2023, Clark shared an affiliate code for seed oil-free tortilla chip brand Masa to a reel without disclosing whether she receives commissions and other benefits from the chip company. Masa Chips’ influencer application portal explains that ambassadors receive perks like “priority access to MASA, custom discount codes, [and] commission on referrals” through Shopify.
TPUSA contributor and conservative streamer Isabel Brown occasionally advertises conservative brands to her 455,000 Instagram followers. Brown’s disclosures are inconsistent. She’ll routinely add disclaimers to a reel or post, but the corresponding Instagram highlight won’t contain a disclaimer. Additionally, Brown’s followers must click “more” to access some of these in-post disclaimers, which is a likely FTC violation:
- Nimi Skincare: Brown has repeatedly promoted a Nimi Skincare affiliate link in Instagram highlights without disclosing her sponsorship. At least one corresponding reel clarified that these were ads after the “more” button, but Brown failed to add the same type of disclosures to her highlights. One post from October 2022 sharing her Nimi affiliate link did not contain any disclosure. Nimi influencers get a unique revenue-sharing code, earning them money each time a customer uses it.
- Naturally It’s Clean: A highlight advertising Brown’s affiliate link with the conservative-owned cleaning brand Naturally It’s Clean did not contain any #ad or other disclaimers. Followers would have to click “more” on the corresponding post to see a disclosure. Naturally It’s Clean’s website does not advertise its influencer marketing program, however a page advertising Isabel’s essential starter kit contains Brown’s personal promo code.
Morgonn McMichael is a TPUSA contributor and founder of Socialrite, a conservative social club for girls that posted transphobic misinformation about Target’s 2023 Pride collection. McMichael has 31,400 Instagram followers, and according to her media kit, McMichael’s Instagram account garners over 200,000 weekly impressions. McMichael’s media kit also lists working relationships with conservative online retail directory Public Square and conservative retail companies. McMichael has posted apparent sponsored content for at least one brand without disclosing her material connection to the brand in a likely violation of FTC regulations:
- COL1972: McMichael uploaded an Instagram highlight in December 2022 plugging her affiliate code with the anti-abortion clothing brand Culture of Life 1972, or COL1972. This post did not disclose that COL1972 affiliates receive benefits from posts. McMichael recently tagged COL1972 in a post that contained one “#ad” disclaimer after a wall of text promoting various conservative brands. According to Col1972’s affiliate program, affiliates receive discounts, commissions, “first dibs” on products, and other benefits in exchange for posts.