When it comes to social media, the content that we consume on a daily basis may be as important as what we’re eating for breakfast. The rise of ‘influencers’ on popular pages such as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter has opened up a whole new “profession” of ‘influencing’ – which in my opinion is volatile, dangerous even.
A recent article by the BBC sheds much needed light on this precarious topic. The article reports that paid advertising for an Instagram influencer has jumped from £104 to £1,276 per post in 2019; with Facebook status updates and Tweets raking in hundreds of pounds; and YouTube soaring with thousand of pounds being paid for sponsored content. The rise of influencers is undoubtedly changing the way companies traditionally advertise their products, but what about ‘companies’ selling products exclusively through social media? The crucial questions we should be asking is not just how much these influencers are being paid… but whether what they’re paid to do is actually safe at all?
As a healthcare professional I am alarmed at the amount of unregulated products being sold on social media pages such as slimming teas, shakes, lotions and potions, by untrained and uneducated ‘influencers’ who quite frankly – may not even use these products, know where they come from or how they are made. When we enter a pharmacy, a health store or supermarket we have the knowledge and assurance that each product on the shelf has been tested, and proven safe for human consumption; and that in order to make our choice we have the help of a trained health professional. However, what assurance do we have from these influencers that the products they are pushing are safe?
The Cambridge English dictionary defines the word influence as ‘having the power to have an effect on people or things’. With this definition in mind, how many of us stop to ask – is an influencer truly concerned with positively influencing change for real people? Or are they invested in having an affluent lifestyle at the expense of real people and their health and safety?
As the BBC article rightly states this ‘influencing’ industry is increasingly becoming scrutinised by official regulators for fear over public safety. As a healthcare professional, I intimately know the rigorous procedures any medicine; prescription item, consumer health product, or beauty product must go through in order to be sold in pharmacies, health stores, or supermarkets. Consumer products are made by educated and experienced scientists, pharmacists and trained health professionals. Furthermore, these products are approved or rejected by official government healthcare regulatory agencies whose job it is to uphold and maintain public health and safety.
You wouldn’t buy a slimming tea off the street from a complete stranger – so why would you buy one off the Internet from a complete stranger, is it really just because they’re wearing a cute outfit?
It is human nature to want to fit in, and in today’s modern society that often means following fashion trends, adhering to social protocol, and curating our lives to look a certain way online – however are we willing to fit in at a potential risk to our health and safety?
Public figures such as Jameela Jamil are powerful and positive advocates when it comes to social media influencing. She very publically demands that social media sites regulate this type of behaviour; having famously taken down products endorsed by the Kardashian family, which were proven to be dangerous to consumers by Harvard experts. Are these people truly positively ‘influencing’ our lives? – Or are they merely ‘affluencers’ profiting off our trust and naiveté?
So where do we go from here? There are a myriad of issues at play here. Although, it apparent that the central issue is maintaining public health and safety. Not only do the public deserve more transparency from ‘influencers’ – how much money are they making per paid advertisement? Do they actually use the products they are selling? But whether or not they have assurance that these products are approved by an official regulatory healthcare agency? However this is a minor portion of a larger issue. There needs to be a serious call to action from Government Regulatory bodies demanding transparency and adherence to the law by social media companies. Furthermore, social media companies must lead the way and take ownership of their platforms to assure their users that products sold online are safe for consumption.
This is a pivotal, perhaps even opportunistic situation for officials and social media platforms to work together in partnership in order to protect the health and safety of their users. People like you and me.