Back in early 2018, an investigation was launched into the tax-payer funded campaign ‘Girls Make Your Move’, that targeted Aussie women and was ultimately aimed to influence girls to get more active. Inspired by the wildly successful and inspirational UK campaign ‘This Girl Can’, the version created by the Australian Health Department saw numerous Australian Instagram Influencers get paid good money to create sponsored posts, intended to inspire women of all ages, shapes, and sizes to get involved in various fitness activities. The message was sweet, no doubt, but there were a few small problems.
The first being that every single influencer used for the campaign was young, attractive… and usually blonde. Every. Single. One.
Now, being an attractive young woman isn’t inherently a bad thing – kudos to these ladies and their fantastic genetics. However, young pretty women who get paid to keep looking young and pretty didn’t exactly match the target demographic that this campaign aimed to inspire – that demographic being those who feel intimidated about their physical appearance. Even more so, the content they were creating for the campaign did very little to explore, discuss, and combat the issue at hand. Rather, the images were generally pretty, posed, and rarely had much to do with fitness or physical activity, despite the captions claiming otherwise. On top of this, those same influencers would return to promote less than healthy habits – such as day drinking and eating junk food – by the next day. This warped promotion made it abundantly clear that these influencers only saw the ‘Girls Make Your Move’ campaign as pay-day, as opposed to being a topic of genuine interest to them, which inevitably tarnished the message that was being portrayed.
In the age of social media, we are exposed to these types of influencers as much as we are with traditional celebrities, sometimes even more so. But are they held to the same standard? Do the messages they promote really matter?
The expectations that the public holds for celebrities is justified. Being in the spotlight places them in a position of power, where they hold an influence over their audience. It’s no secret that celebrity saturation in the media constantly impacts various habits of the general public. Thus, it’s fair to expect that they be good people and do good deeds. They need to promote positive messages and advocate for what is right. Otherwise, they face justified backlash and controversy.
As the number of social media influencers grows, as well as their fan-bases and therefore their power, it only seems natural for the same rules to apply. After all, influencers are often also referred to as “micro-celebrities”, for these very reasons.
A key difference that sets influencers apart from celebrities is the way in which their popularity grew. Traditionally, you would need to have a certain talent to reach fame – the ability to act, or sing, or dance. Influencers, on the other hand, garner their following through the use of social media, and often don’t need to be particularly good at anything. This image makes them seem more relatable, as if they’re just ordinary people like you or me (except they kind of aren’t, because they get paid to post cute pics of them using a face mask, and you and I still get excited when we hit over 50 likes; but I digress). In a way, they are known just for being known, and this usually occurs based on elements of association, aspiration and recognition. This heightens their ability to influence, because we feel as though we can trust them. On top of this, their ability to influence is also accelerated by their methods of fame, as having a social-media oriented career means they can have higher levels of engagement, and therefore feel more authentic.
With all of this power to communicate constantly and effectively with their audience, I believe it is fair to hold social media influencers accountable for the messages they send. If anything can be learnt from the ‘Girls Make Your Move’ scandal, it’s that influencers should consider whether the message they are promoting genuinely holds value, to both themselves and the audience they are promoting it to. Influencers should choose to promote only what they truly feel passion for – not what pays higher – and expect to be called out when their messages conflict. And the best part? They can still look pretty while doing it.
In the end, influencers and celebrities alike are human beings, but as they say; great power comes with great responsibility. We can only hope that the next generation of influencers continue to take that responsibility seriously.