The questionable influence of ‘Instagram influencers’

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/22/19

Of all the things I can lay legitimate claim to being, an “Instagram influencer” isn’t one of them.

My modest Instagram account isn’t over-burdened with followers, and that’s OK. Just …

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The questionable influence of ‘Instagram influencers’

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Of all the things I can lay legitimate claim to being, an “Instagram influencer” isn’t one of them.

My modest Instagram account isn’t over-burdened with followers, and that’s OK. Just about everyone who might want to see the pictures I post of my cat, or my dog, or the occasional pretty sunset at which I aim my smartphone is probably already following me on the social media platform.

I’m not reaching a wide audience on Instagram, though I’d always welcome more people into the fold; but it never occurred to me that I could, or should, “influence” the fewer than 60 people who follow my Instagram feed.

So imagine my surprise — or was it disgust? — when I learned there is such a thing as an Instagram influencer.

I might have forever remained unaware of the term — is it an actual job? — had actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, along with dozens of other people whose faces haven’t graced our television screens, not been charged last week in the massive college admissions cheating scandal.

Loughlin, the nominally-famous star of “Full House” and “Fuller House” (I’d make a joke here about the “big house” if it wasn’t so obvious), is accused, along with her fashion designer husband, of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters enrolled at the University of Southern California.

I’m not picking on Loughlin — my disgust with the rich and/or famous cheating their children’s way into institutes of higher learning is bigger than that — but news accounts of the scandal casually, and without further explanation, referred to one of Loughlin’s daughters, Olivia Jade, as an Instagram influencer, which left me wondering: What is an Instagram influencer?

I Googled the term and this is what came up: “Influencers are Instagram users who have an established credibility and audience; who can persuade others by virtue of their trustworthiness and authenticity. Your brand’s influencers are users that employ your brand hashtag who have the largest number of followers.”

The Google search also revealed the existence of several websites aimed at helping guide fledgling influencers to success, as well as an online article inviting readers to “Meet the Top 25 Instagram Influencers of our time.” Since Instagram has existed only since 2010, the “of our time” clarification seemed unnecessary, but that’s quibbling.

My next online stop was Instagram itself, where I visited Olivia Jade’s account — she has 1.3 million followers — to see for myself the work of a bona fide influencer.

To my surprise, I wasn’t as put-off as I thought I’d be. Basically, Jade — no doubt thanks to her mom and dad’s celebrity — is a paid endorser for some companies. She has her own line of cosmetics with Sephora and it appears she decorated her college dorm room with the essential help of Amazon.

She’s not what I’d call a celebrity. Like college educations, I still believe one must earn celebrity status. But in an era when the Kardashians make careers out of being themselves, and their half-sister Kylie Jenner not only becomes a celebrity by virtue of birthright or osmosis but is also, according to Forbes Magazine, the world’s youngest billionaire, success — and celebrity — is defined in different terms than I’m accustomed to.

Though I still believe in the virtues of hard work and honesty, I’m not so out-of-touch that I begrudge Olivia Jade, or the slew of other young people who’ve risen to fame on Instagram or Youtube, their success as commercial pitchmen via these most 21st century means.

But “influencer” somehow has a sinister sound to it, to me; and the enormous influence many of these Instagramers and You Tubers have isn’t always merely as commercial pitchmen.

How many of Olivia Jade’s million-plus followers, for instance, have been influenced not just to buy from Sephora but also to embrace her vapid ideas about school, which she shared in a now widely-derided Instagram post in which she opined about the things she likes (partying) and the things she doesn’t (school itself) about the college experience she’s enjoying at the expense of another, more deserving student whose place her parents stole?

The problem with “influencers” isn’t the products they push, but their sometimes questionable or objectionable values.

Is there room in the vastness of the Internet for positive people who lead, who create, who contribute, and who inspire us to reach higher and do better, and not just to preen and purchase? Let’s hope so.


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