Social media influencers have a bizarre amount of power over their followers – at least until they end up on the social scrapheap, writes Alessandro Tomé
These are fast times. Not quite in the same vein as Fast Times at Ridgemont High – that was a different type of fast. It felt like watching aspirational mayhem: wild kids doing crazy stuff, man, like sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. It was bad behaviour that felt good, and it was only likely to happen in a movie.
This new fast is a different kettle of fish altogether – it’s a digital-led fast that is impacting and influencing morals and even the law, let alone acceptable behaviour across all age groups and the societal spectrum.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is now Normal Times at Any School Nearby – desirable behaviour that will look great on social media. Social media has made it acceptable to vividly document every aspect of your life and the most cringe-making moments of others’ lives – with or without their consent.
That entices you to push beyond your self-preserving personal boundary with the lure of the ultimate reward – becoming an influencer. Having followers. Leading them to behave like you. To imitate you. To live like you. To be you. Well, the you that you want them to know, that is. The you that you can monetise, the you that sells. Stuff, opinions, ideas, political misinformation, eating habits or disorders and anything else someone might be willing to believe you on. And you need to do it fast and big and cash in before you get debunked. Like the vegan influencer caught eating fish – being trolled violently by her buddies and shredded like one would for a good pulled pork sandwich.
And that was before she posted a video explaining that her vegan diet and occasional 25-day fasts had actually given her various health issues that seemed to be remedied by returning to a slightly more balanced diet that included fish. I wonder how long she might have been harbouring these doubts and issues, but not daring to voice them for fear of losing the money or the boost of so many followers? Or was it most of all the fear of the poison she would receive?
However I might feel about the extremist few in their apparent earth-loving midst, I can also understand. Cult followers have always been with us, from cave time to digital times. And so have cult leaders, and so have tragic ends – mainly for the cult followers, either through the realisation that their sacrifices were to lesser gods that rarely live as they preach, or thankfully more seldom, tragic outcomes. Just like so many before and more to come, our vegan friend’s followers felt betrayed, let down and even exposed by the one leading them. Even though some will have felt relief as they also were trapped into her dilemma, for most this exposure was for all the world to see and needed expurgating.
And for this, the leader needs a public digital destruction for the greater good, to protect the message, the community. While erstwhile analogue cultleaders never really made the mainstream media except in their final throes of arrest or death, the digi-cultist (or, in more social-media friendly terminology, the influencer) has a huge reach immediately and filter-free. And so do the downfalls and hence the disturbing trend in uncontrolled, unaccountable and vicious trolling as either a dysfunctional crisis-management mechanism or a digital blood sport.
Either way, I wonder why anyone would want to be an influencer, knowing all this. Is the ego trip really worth it? Or even that sense of mission in sharing personal experiences that one feels may be of help to someone else? Or is it the lure of the money? Or the need to be recognised, rewarded, accepted, loved? All the above, in most cases. Just like with current politicians, we are left with useless idiots giving us their shamelessly self-serving opinions that we would have never heard of in the past when the press was selective for its content.
How fast have influencers migrated from the Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘Someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave, for example through their use of social media’ to the urban dictionary one of, ‘someone with lack of intelligence and a lot of free time, followed by tons of idiots with IQ lower than room temperature on some social network, usually Instagram’.
But perhaps we should ask ourselves this instead: how long before we just want to stop being so lazy and accepting being spoon-fed every little aspect of life, before we start creating our own experiences again, knowing what we want, what we like and most of all what we don’t? Bring back the real fast times, dude!
Alessandro Tomé writes for Spear’s
This article first appeared in issue 68 of Spear’s magazine, available on newsstands now. Click here to buy and subscribe.