Do Influencers Have Too Much Influence?

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It was found in 2019 by Statista that becoming an influencer was the second-highest aspired career amongst teens in the UK. Over recent years, influencers who have built their following through their own social activities and online platforms such as Youtube have become increasingly in demand by both us and businesses looking to promote products. We no longer just aspire to celebrities but also to bloggers, YouTubers and social media influencers.

These influencers can show the realities of life and provide comfort to fans but they can also have a negative impact on people’s lives. They are increasingly removed from this mundane life that attracted us initially. There is so much aspiration created by influencer content at times that I viewed my own life in a negative light, from body image and appearance to financial position in life. Although they may have gained this online audience without being a celebrity prior, their online profile has created fame which has led to them becoming role models without even realising sometimes.

In a 2018 study by Statista, 36% of millennials agreed that influencer marketing is damaging to society. There have been many influencers who, after growing at a fast rate, have fallen into hot water over the promotion of particular products and their online activities. From old offensive tweets to unhealthy product promotions, there’s been plenty of occasions where influencers have been exposed online causing damage for both themselves and their followers.

Michelle Lewin, a fitness influencer came under fire in 2018 after promoting a diet pill on her Instagram to her 13 million followers at the time. The pills were never confirmed to be dangerous, however, it caused many to criticise her for encouraging a negative attitude towards food to her audience.

During her promotion on her story, she explained the pills allowed you to indulge in food without caring. The link provided led to an Amazon page that said the pills “allow you to cheat on a diet” with the main tagline being, “Indulge on the carbs you love while minimising weight gain, allowing you to not feel guilty and enjoy life.” Michelle Lewin is not the first influencer who has promoted diet pills. Some others have even promoted pills declared medically dangerous.

The iWeigh community has previously campaigned to regulate the promotion and selling of diet pills and cosmetic surgery. Jameela Jamil, the founder of iWeigh has been on a crusade to create change. In 2019 the campaign came to victory when Instagram enforced a policy whereby if a weight loss product or cosmetic surgery is being promoted with a fixed price tag attached that users under 18 years of age will be prohibited from viewing these posts. A second policy also banned any content making ‘miraculous claims’ about diet pills or weight loss products.

Considering that Statista’s study found 26% of millennials have purchased an item as a direct result of a promotion. Promotion by influencers could lead to followers buying potentially dangerous products or products encouraging unhealthy behaviours. Not only do these promotions lose them followers but also links to negative accusations of their social activities can cause this.

Earlier this year beauty influencer, James Charles faced accusations of engaging in inappropriate communications with minors which in turn lost him around 100,000 subscribers within a month.

Influencers social activities and promotions can leave them losing thousands, even millions of followers in both the short term or the long term. Although these scandals do occur and can create negativity with their online audience, there are still many influencers promoting positivity and aiming to provide specific promotions for products that they deem beneficial. 

Carys Whittaker, a fitness influencer and vlogger, shares her life online and over the last year has been speaking very candidly about body image and the pressures surrounding it. One of her Instagram posts showed an image of her present and past body shape, promoting body positivity and embracing change. The main message being that body shape doesn’t define you.

Since having a child she has been very open in sharing the body changes faced after birth such as stretch marks as well as other topics such as public breastfeeding and the fitness challenges faced after pregnancy. She works with numerous brands centring any advertisements around the message of body positivity.

Influencers are beginning to expose the filters that lead to these aspirational images. Instead, they are sharing real, unfiltered imagery that promotes an honest and positive lifestyle online. However, honesty could be a fleeting trend and these woke influencers are still people living unattainable lifestyles. 

In December 2020, it was proposed by the UK Government that big tech giants should be forced to rid their platforms of illegal or toxic content or face a fine as these platforms hold a duty of care to their users. Although this proposal could provide protection to young people and the negativity that some influencers produce in the future, the issue is very much alive now. 

These influencer’s online lifestyles only seem to be gaining more interest, providing short term gain but potentially negative long term outcomes for their followers. If young people’s aims to become influencers continue to grow then it is important for these current influencer’s realities to be shown and to regulate online content more.

Words by Catherine Donaldson


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