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Vantage | What Wild Wild West of influencing is telling you about influencers

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Vantage | What Wild Wild West of influencing is telling you about influencers

In this influencer economy anything goes. But who is holding them accountable?

The Vantage Take December 20, 2023 18:52:03 IST Vantage | What Wild Wild West of influencing is telling you about influencers

Representational image. Wikipedia

In the month of August this year, in the American state of Utah, a 12-year-old child climbed out the window of a house. He was malnourished and had deep lacerations. But the boy ran to a neighbour, asking them to call the police. Because he was being held captive along with his sister. Eventually the cops arrived, and the siblings were taken to a hospital.

And soon after, two women — Ruby Franke, Mother of the children, who was ironically also a parenting influencer and her former business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, a counsellor and life coach — were arrested.

It was Hildebrandt’s house where the children were being held. The boy had been tied up with ropes (and hence, the lacerations).

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The two women have remained jailed since their arrests. Each is charged with six felony counts for aggravated child abuse.

On Monday, Franke pleaded guilty to abusing and starving two of her children. “With my deepest regret and sorrow for my family and my children. Guilty,” said Franke.

Frankie likely faces a prison sentence, she has six children, four of them are in state custody.

Question is, how did it come to this? How did someone — who preaches about parenting — abuse her own children? The answer is simple: This world of influencing is like the wild, Wild West.

Laws are inadequate. Regulatory oversight is lacking. So disorder prevails. Anyone with a mobile phone having access to the internet can become an influencer.

Once they do, money comes easily and frequently, there is a term for this which is called the “creator economy”. It is powered by millions of people who are building and monetising their own brand selling products, advice, inspiration, attention, and even fun to their followers.

It may sound superficial. But this industry is projected to reach 480 billion dollars by 2027. Of some 2,000 global brands, 80 percent use influencer marketing, and 54 percent youngsters say they would become influencers if they could.

Seems almost euphoric, but it really isn’t. There are big loopholes here:

Why are influencers saying what they are? Are they being paid to do so? Can you really trust what they say or do? No one knows.

A man called the Liver King, who is a shredded fitness influencer, claims to eat raw organs, to achieve a desired physique. But then he made a confession, admitting to taking over 10,000 dollars worth of steroids a month. Soon after, he was hit with a $25 million lawsuit for deception.

A wellness influencer, Zhanna d’Art, ate only raw vegan food, and promoted the same. This year she died of starvation according to reports.

There are many such cases. Influencers pedal everything. From botox fillers to crypto wisecracks. But many don’t believe what they say. They are simply promoting brands for money. They don’t have the right credentials to shell out advice, and sometimes, few even kill themselves to get the views. In this influencer economy anything goes. But who is holding them accountable?

This year America charged influencers for illegally promoting crypto. Australia investigated them over false advertisements. Italy sued a fashion influencer for misleading content. And France became the first country to legally define what an influencer is.

Basically the actions exist but they are far less than the reported incidents. So what can we do about it? Until the action comes, if it even does, do your part, hold your influencers accountable, double check their pearls of wisdom, establish your own guardrails, and hold your influencers to higher standards.

Influencing is not going anywhere, so maybe it’s time, we make it a two-way street.

Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect Firstpost’s views.

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