Why there’s no room for in­sen­si­tive in­flu­encers in our evolv­ing world

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - ASH­LEIGH STE­WART

Cri­tique of in­sen­si­tive and op­por­tunis­tic in­flu­encers has, in a way, made so­cial me­dia rail against so­cial me­dia

We’re cur­rently in the mid­dle of im­mense up­heaval. Be­tween the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, protests over the killing of George Floyd in po­lice cus­tody, the Aus­tralian bush­fires, lo­cust out­breaks in East Africa and sec­tar­ian clashes in In­dia, the first six months of 2020 have wel­comed a ver­i­ta­ble tour de force of catas­tro­phe.

So­cial me­dia has played a huge role in this. It has sparked change and cap­tured what’s hap­pen­ing on the ground, both cre­at­ing and con­nect­ing ral­ly­ing cries that have re­ver­ber­ated around the world.

It has brought out the very best ex­am­ples of hu­man­ity.

But it’s also brought out some of the worst.

In re­cent weeks, videos have sur­faced in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia show­ing op­por­tunists tak­ing staged pho­tos amongst Black Lives Mat­ter protests, or pos­ing as they pre­tend to lend a hand.

Cri­tique of these mo­ments has, in an oddly cir­cu­lar way, made so­cial me­dia rail against so­cial me­dia. Peo­ple are an­gry; ac­cus­ing in­flu­encers and their ilk of cap­i­tal­is­ing on the groundswel­l for per­sonal gain.

Sure, it’s tough for every­one out there at the mo­ment – in­flu­encers in­cluded – but em­pa­thy and com­mon sense must be cau­tioned.

The abil­ity to utilise a gath­er­ing of thou­sands of peo­ple protest­ing against po­lice bru­tal­ity as a quirky In­sta­gram back­drop isn’t a skill we need in to­day’s world; nor is pos­ing with a drill along­side a man re­build­ing a store, just long enough for a pic­ture to be taken. Per­for­ma­tive ac­tivism should not be syn­ony­mous with in­flu­enc­ing.

Closer to home, in the UAE, restau­ra­teurs say they are re­ceiv­ing large num­bers of mes­sages from “blog­gers” want­ing free food amid the pan­demic, with some threat­en­ing ret­ri­bu­tion in the form of neg­a­tive re­views when they are re­fused. Tone-deaf travel throw­backs have been posted and ex­pen­sive goods hawked as peo­ple strug­gled to make ends meet, spon­sored con­tent ap­peared on #Black­outTues­day – the list goes on.

It’s not a new crit­i­cism, but it raises an im­por­tant ques­tion: what hap­pens next for an in­dus­try that has ex­pe­ri­enced such a huge boom in such a short space of time?

Peo­ple have for years fore­cast the age of the in­flu­encer to be edg­ing closer to ex­tinc­tion. So could 2020 be the as­ter­oid that wipes them all out?

Well, prob­a­bly not.

The Na­tional has spent the past month can­vass­ing the opin­ions of PRs, con­tent cre­ators and brands about how the pan­demic has in­flu­enced the in­flu­encer in­dus­try in the UAE.

One opin­ion re­mains unan­i­mous: the in­dus­try is set to stay. But those who sur­vive the cur­rent land­scape will be those who evolve.

Af­ter all, we need these peo­ple to en­ter­tain, to keep us sane and to help us make our daily lives a lit­tle eas­ier – which is why the in­flu­encer in­dus­try came to ex­ist in the first place.

Cer­tainly, a good few in­flu­encers de­serve ku­dos for how they’ve piv­oted their con­tent – in the UAE alone we’ve seen some com­ing to the aid of an ail­ing restau­rant in­dus­try, oth­ers ad­vo­cat­ing for strug­gling small busi­nesses and oth­ers of­fer­ing free on­line work­outs, use­ful for their fol­low­ers stay­ing at home.

But in­flu­encers are, by their very def­i­ni­tion, peo­ple who wield clout. Their voices are the loud­est, so they should be called out when that voice is mis­used – the same as any celebrity, politi­cian or aca­demic.

Be­cause, re­mem­ber, they are happy to be ap­plauded and re­warded when they do get it right.

Un­splash

In­flu­encers have been post­ing travel throw­backs

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