Who are you following on social media? Chances are, alongside your friends and meme pages, your feed plays host to posts by influencers with millions of followers flaunting their OOTD or posing happily with products sent to them for free for promotional purposes.
We give them views, we give them likes and shares and, in the process, we enable them to get away with exploiting a problematic and arguably toxic power structure. However, a new viral TikTok trend is trying to challenge that.
Influencers are profiting off of you. Followers are an influencer's bread and butter and by following a person, you increase their social clout, allowing them to capitalise on you. This is a pyramid-shaped marketing scheme. Not dissimilar to asking "What's so wrong with corporations taking my personal information anyway?", one might wonder what's so wrong with allowing influencers to profit off of them.
Celebrities make a ginormous amount of money by making social media posts alone. A recent MSN News article reports that the social media mogul sitting at the pinnacle of influencer culture, Kylie Jenner, earns USD 1.2 million for every sponsored Instagram post.
Fox Business reports that the average influencer in the US makes between USD 30,000 to 100,000 per year for promoting products like clothing, food, hotel chains and even vitamin supplements on their pages.
Gina Bologna, whose TikTok video started the mass unfollowing trend said in her video, "I used to work in marketing and I know how much people like Kylie Jenner get paid for having the social media account followings that they have. Unfollow them. Unfollow them all. This world is lacking balance and harmony, the inequality… is greater than it ever has been."
"The media structure has been corporatized, and has not been speaking for the people for quite some time. We deserve to be free people. They have undermined us, they have been bought and sold by corporations — it is no longer the people's interests in mind it is corporations' interests."
It is interesting to note here that just last year several celebrities and influencers, including rapper Cardi B, were given warnings for failing to disclose to their followers that the tea they were flaunting in their posts were a paid promotion, which is important because the drink was making "scientifically dubious claims" about its health benefits.
Model, mom and social media aficionado Chrissy Teigen got embroiled in controversy when she inadvertently exposed just how smoothly your career can run if you have social media clout. Professional chef Alison Roman called Teigen out in May 2020 by saying, "She (Teigen) had a successful cookbook. And then it was like: Boom, line at Target. Boom, now she has an Instagram page that has over a million followers where it's just, like, people running a content farm for her. That horrifies me and it's not something that I ever want to do."
While Teigen has a social media following, there are many exemplary professional chefs like Roman who have dedicated their life to the culinary field but will never get product lines or get to capitalise on their culinary skills the way a celebrity like Teigen will. This is a good example of how influencer culture can hijack opportunities from people dedicated to their talents.
So, how much power can unfollowing have? Organised protests can do a lot on social media. Closer to home in India, when the untimely death of a talented, superstar actor caused controversy last year and accusations of nepotism, favouritism and grouping were thrown around, industry insiders who the public thought were lacking in their behaviour saw their followers decrease in the hundreds of thousands.
The public isn't a court of law, it's not about deciding who's guilty. It's about sending them a straight message. And in today's age, unfollowing someone on social media is as direct as a message gets.
The recent GameStop and Reddit phenomenon only proved the power organised and coordinated online movements can have. Like Janis so eloquently explained in Mean Girls, "Regina George is an evil dictator. How do you overthrow an evil dictator? You take away her resources. She would be nothing without… (her) band of loyal followers."
With anything in life, we must ask "What do I gain from this?" Ask yourself why you are following a certain person. Marie Kondo up your newsfeed and question why anyone deserves a spot on it. It is perhaps both a philosophical and a subjective question to ask, "What value does it add to my life?"
For me, if I'm learning something from a content creator, be it cooking, arts and crafts or makeup, that has value. I'm grateful for public figures that are teaching me something. We don't need to unfollow every single account. There are some that inspire you to pursue a certain field and some that are genuinely non problematic and don't capitalise on you.
For Bangladeshi influencers, many shot to popularity on their own merit to do comedy or review food joints in the city. I'm happy to keep them on my feed. Receiving the axe are those who flaunt privileges and do little other than aim to set dubious lifestyle standards. Or worse, crass content in the name of entertainment. This is particularly problematic because the wealthy and influential have a self-validating seal of approval so whatever they do or wear becomes the trend (hence the moniker "influencer", I know).
Bologna said when encouraging the unfollow movement, "Many influencers become influencers because they are already living lavish lives that they see 'worth envying,' meanwhile there are people without their basic needs being met," she wrote. "How can we rationalize giving celebrities USD 30,000 to post a picture of themselves with a product when we can't even feed and house all of our people?!"
And to date, over a thousand people so far have posted videos of them unfollowing celebrities.
1. Wynne, K. (2021, February 3). A new 'eat the rich' plan asks you to unfollow your favorite celebrities and corporations. Newsweek.com.
2. Barrabi, T. (2020, March 7). Cardi B's detox tea Instagram posts prompt FTC warning. Fox Business.
3. Crabtree, E. (2020, May 11). Author Alison Roman Shades Chrissy Teigen for Her Success: 'I Don't Aspire to That'. US Weekly.
4. Conklin, A. (2020, March 30). How much money do social media influencers make? Fox Business.
Mrittika Anan Rahman is a daydreamer trying hard not to run into things while walking. Find her at email@example.com