Media

When influencer activism can do more harm than good

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Our society today is being changed and challenged by the ever-growing influencer culture, with influencers often portraying themselves as trendy, glam and humble individuals. With the realities of day-to-day life tying us down, influencers provide the working person with an escape from the standard 9-5 job. Whether they’re jetting off to a new paradise far from the clutches of the pandemic or dressing themselves head-to-toe in the latest fashion, the growth of social media means that influences are very much here to stay.

Earlier this month, Love Islander Alexandra Cane came under fire for slamming the Covid vaccine as ‘experimental’. The TV reality star further stated to her fans that, “I choose not to inject something that I have not much information of, nor do I wish to follow suit because others are.”

Indeed, this sparked a chorus of outcry from her followers. Scientists and professors also criticised the star, stating that while celebrities are entitled to their own opinions, “they must also exercise that entitlement responsibly… in this case, the claims are irresponsible.”

Misinformation and worrying claims that the Covid jab is ‘experimental’ or ‘unsafe’, or in Alexandra’s case that “we all have immune systems that naturally fight infections and bacteria”, have been a long debated issue, circulating the internet at large. But these worries and uncertainties have also been debunked. Bryan Deane from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry says that Covid jabs have gone through independent and rigorous checks to ensure that they are safe for the public.

It cannot go unnoticed that Alexandra Cane’s statement sparks a lot of issues – both morally and ethically. While influencers already wield a huge amount of power with large audiences and followings, there needs to be a balance in working out how their power can most effectively be used.

Although there is no one size fits all answer, in terms of influencer culture, it can unanimously be agreed that influencers should share actionable information, rather than misinformation. There is evidence to show that vaccine hesitancy is reducing, especially amongst young people, and Azeem Majeed, a professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College London suggests that celebrities, pop stars and footballers alike get on board with promoting the jab.

Therefore, one argument can be made is that influencers should be using their platforms to praise the NHS and all that they have done over the past year, as well as those who have been working tirelessly to provide us with a vaccine. Love Islander Dr Alex George does just this, by using his ever-growing platform base on Instagram and Twitter, he raises awareness of a multitude of issues – from the Covid pandemic to mental health.

Moreover, with influencers exhibiting their flamboyant way of life – constantly traveling and jetting off – this sparks heavy controversy. Many have criticised influencers’ decisions to jet off in the midst of the pandemic, stating that “they should recognise the responsibility that comes with that and work to promote public health, not undermine it.”

It is of importance that influencers do just so, as many young people are viewing the pandemic through the eyes of their online idols. Looking into the psychological benefits of having influencers, Jelle Fastenau argues that teenagers often look up to role models to shape their own behaviours. By having influencers and idols, it is easier for teens to identify with them and ultimately copy their behaviours, but not when they are capitalizing on irresponsible behaviour.

Therefore, influencers are also presented with an opportunity to create real change and should be using their platforms for the good of society. Without any doubt, influencers should be obligated to speak up on any and every political issue. In terms of Alexandra Crane’s misleading statement, Nouse writers Annabel Mulliner and Ben Wilson argue that their activism should be avoided on complex issues they may not have an in-depth understanding of  – therefore Instagram activism can sometimes oversimplify complex issues.

Though Alexandra Cane’s comment has sparked repercussions, including a loss in her follower count and a hubbub of anti-vaxxers spreading distortion of the truth, the deeper issue is that influencers’ words can be detrimental to society. Those who are willing to make a change and present their followers with radical, forward thinking difference are drowned out by bias.

Moving forward, it is important that there is repeated emphasis of truth to create a more tangible difference within society. Influencers, Instagrammers, and idols must be held accountable for the mistruths they spread, but they also must do a lot more to emphasise the societal benefits of mass immunisation.

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