A group of influencers who attempted to play Oprah on their feeds by giving away a car are now under investigation by the platform for violating its policy against spam.
After BuzzFeed News contacted Instagram about the giveaway, a spokesperson said it is "reviewing the content in question and will take appropriate action."
"This is against our policies and we’re currently assessing the content with a view to taking action," Stephanie Otway said, adding that content that violates Instagram's policies will be removed from the platform. Under the company's spam policies, users may not buy or sell followers or other site features except in cases of clearly marked branded content, which has its own set of policies.
The 16 influencers announced on Monday night that they were hosting a giveaway for the brand new 2020 Hyundai Accent SE. They called it "car gifting."
"I am so excited, because I know this is going to change somebody's life," one of the participants, Daryl-Ann Denner, said in her Instagram story.
The bloggers also said the winner could choose a "cash equivalent," which would be around $16,000 in prize money. That detail, Otway said, is what made them run afoul of the platform's policies.
"Cash giveaways violate our policies if done in exchange for site privileges e.g. 'like 100 of my photos/tag your friends to win,'" she said. "This isn’t the kind of experience we want to create on Instagram."
The giveaway is what's known as a "loop giveaway" on the platform: A group of influencers host the giveaway together, and in order to enter, you have to follow all of the participating influencers. This boosts all of the participants' follower counts, which help them get bigger ad deals and partnerships. The participants either split the prize between themselves, or they pay a third party to play. They are often framed as a way for influencers to give back to their followers.
The giveaways are controversial on Instagram among many influencers, who see them as a way to artificially boost followers. Influencers have offered their followers everything from Peloton bikes to cold, hard cash in these giveaways, leading critics to equate them to buying followers.
And according to Instagram, artificially collecting followers is spam.
"Help us stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers, or shares, posting repetitive comments or content, or repeatedly contacting people for commercial purposes without their consent," Instagram's community guidelines say.
None of the influencers involved in the car giveaway immediately returned a request for comment.
After the bloggers announced the "car gifting," many people were incredulous that they would give away such an expensive prize.
Another implication of such a big-ticket item? Taxes. Lisa Greene-Lewis, a CPA and tax expert for TurboTax, told BuzzFeed News that if the group of bloggers did give away a car in a sweepstakes, the recipient would be on the hook to Uncle Sam.
"The recipient has to claim the car on their taxes and will be taxed at the fair market value of the car," she said.
In fact, this is exactly what happened with Oprah's famous car giveaway, which ended up costing her lucky audience members $6,000 each in taxes after they won. Greene-Lewis added that winning the car could bump the winner into another tax bracket, depending on their current income.
Besides these issues, many influencers say they feel these giveaways are inauthentic. Carly A. Heitlinger, an influencer and blogger at Carly the Prepster, told BuzzFeed News the giveaways are completely "out of control."
"The problem, in my eyes, beyond the questionable legality of everything is that it falls under 'keeping up with the Joneses,'" she said. "It's not what I would recommend in terms of building a viable business."
Heitlinger, who spoke out against the car giveaway on her stories, said she would tell anyone considering doing a loop giveaway like this one that "it's probably one of the worst things they can do as a business." She noted that influencers are ranked in tiers, and that's on purpose.
"Artificially bumping yourself out of one tier and into another only means you're going up against bigger influencers, who likely have the years of experience, established brand, and engagement rate companies and brands are looking for when doing ad spends on that tier," she said.
Heitlinger said she feels the giveaways are like Facetuning photos to make yourself look different than you do in real life. It may look good for the 'gram, but what happens when a brand wants to know "how much trust your followers have to buy the product you endorse?" she said.
"Brands are getting smarter," Heitlinger said. "Consumers are getting smarter. It's clichéd, but don't worry about what 'everyone' else is doing, because right now it seems like 'everyone' is walking their personal brands right off the cliff. If everyone else jumped, would you jump too?"