We are a social media generation, both a blessing and a curse. A cool thing happens, we put it on Instagram. A new trending topic, we’re keen to get our first reaction thoughts down on Twitter. We document an experience first and only live the experience in hindsight. This comes part and parcel with the generation we live in, where there’s an unspoken competition to prove that your life is better than your friends’. But who really kills this game, who really succeeds at showing us what a #goals life is? Influencers, of course. And the best part? If you follow their foolproof advice, you too can emulate the influencer lifestyle, you too can have a ‘cool’ and enviable Instagram life!
More and more young people are looking to influencers to provide them with a moral compass and a way to navigate growing up. Many of these influencers seem to understand them better than their parents, they share their sense of humour, they have a better fashion sense, so what’s the harm in taking life inspiration from them too?
The problem lies in the fact that social media is a half-truth, if that. People share what they want you to see, which is the greatest image of themselves possible. And unfortunately, we put them on a pedestal, making the mistake of associating what they post online to being an accurate reflection of their character and beliefs. Sometimes this is the case, and if we remain cautious about what lessons we take from these people it can be beneficial for us.
Other times a controversy comes to light, and the followers of those influencers are left feeling betrayed and lost, unsure of what lessons to uphold and what to forget. It’s a dangerous space to be in especially if you’re a young person.
Perhaps fame plays a part in how genuine a person is towards their followers. When a regular user just shares aspects of their life there isn’t the pressure to convey the image of perfection, and there is more scope for authenticity. The audience absorbs this relatable and authentic content, they feel they are interacting with a friend, but as one progresses on their journey from user to influencer the gulf between the influencer and their audience widens. As endorsements, sponsorships and business are introduced, the narrative shifts and a distorted image is presented to the audience through the lens of celebrity. The influencer’s life appears perfect and their followers struggle to keep up – trying to achieve this insta-friendly life aesthetic by using the solutions that are offered by influencers through endless adverts and filters. A user journey is often used in business to describe the process of priming potentials through to becoming loyal customers; influencers employ similar techniques to grow and nurture their fanbase. They are earning a profit from your loyalty, as they are paid when their audience buys products they are advertising and will continue to capitalise on it.
Their loyalty lies with the companies that fund their lavish lifestyles, rather than the audience that is facilitating this process.
In the rush of earning money with this novel technique, the morals behind such an approach are sometimes lost. The sense of responsibility towards your followers diminishes because the companies that pay for your lifestyle and online presence take precedence. A political point or fighting for a belief you hold strongly can cost you sponsorships, so you play the impartial corporate game to keep them “on side”, thereby not impacting your livelihood or reputation for future campaigns. If a follower, however, makes a bad life decision after taking lessons from your example you can absolve responsibility by stating you didn’t ask for them to be influenced by you. But you did, every one of your posts did.
So what’s the solution, how do we ensure we don’t fall into the influencer trap?
Find role models offline
If we need role models, we can start by putting our phones down and looking closer to home – our parents, friends, siblings and colleagues can all offer wisdom and experience you won’t find anywhere else, and they do not have any financial interest in gaining your trust. They also have a greater understanding of your life and the difficulties you may be facing, in a way an influencer would not. Above all else we have the greatest examples of humanity in Islam to look to as inspiring figures, our Prophet SAW was the greatest example in character and action to follow.
By all means, take the good from these online figures, but don’t give them the power to dictate your opinions and choices. There is a trend among influencers of gaining prominence by capitalising on self-tokenisation and then dissociating from this identity once they have achieved what they set out to. Allah judges each person individually, so just because they are doing something you don’t agree with it doesn’t mean you should follow suit as they are inspiring to you. Trust your own judgement and bear in mind that there may be a vested interest behind their actions.
Remember a perfect life doesn’t exist
Contrary to how it may appear, the image of a perfect life is an illusion. We all have bad days, including influencers. They are selective with how their social media is presented because they have mastered the business aspect. Buying into their advertising and their products will not change anything about your life no matter how much they try to convince you otherwise.
Be aware of your intentions and impact
The responsibility of propagating this culture lies with the influencers, so as an influencer it is important to understand what your purpose is and act with honesty and integrity. If your aim is to get a message across then dedicate yourself to that, if it is to sell products as an ambassador then be honest with your audience and do not intentionally mislead them. Accountability is part and parcel of being in a position of influence, your followers acting on what you have directly or indirectly advised them to is your responsibility, and if you cannot handle this aspect then you should also not be profiting off them.
Focus your energies on the outside world
There is a temptation to become fixated on our appearances, our lives and how we present ourselves to the world. The world of social media only magnifies this, with all the influencers providing a perfect ideal for us to compare ourselves to. If we harnessed some of this energy to serving our community instead, just imagine the good we could achieve. Try volunteering for a new project, helping your parents more and being a good neighbour. Imagine how liberating it would be to define our self-worth by how much of an impact our actions made, rather than just how we looked or what we owned.
Following a Master's in Natural Sciences at UCL, Ghausia works as a tech consultant for a large global firm, with a particular interest in the power of social media marketing. She is passionate about increasing diversity in the workplace, especially women in STEM, and has also been an advocate for mental health awareness. Ghausia enjoys writing about topics of interest and video production, having contributed to a number of creative campaigns inside and outside work.