India Dunkley on the negative effects of influencer culture.

I’ve always thought of myself as reasonably open; very much aware of the ever-changing world and the capitalist climbing frame of the current job market. I find myself attracted to this rat race; yearning for the extra inches my arms can stretch and motivated enough to put the work in to obtain this space. Why is then, I ask the reader, we are standing by idle as this realm of wealth and determination is repeatedly undermined and overshadowed by the neuroticism of this grave phenomenon which has come to be understood as “influencer culture”.

I am confident that most have some understanding of this absurd world, for its penetrable promise has monopolised, not only our social media feeds, but more worryingly, the thoughts of people all over the world. The alluring promise of “quick fix fame” has unequivocally captured the hearts and minds of so many, with the likes of Instagram and TikTok spring-boarding the legitimation of these fleeting endeavours as genuine and attractive career paths.

These faces sell themselves to our screens in a relentlessly pathetic scramble for, what? Likes? Views? Attention? Perhaps these sexualised dances; lip-syncing skits and challenges – nobody asked to see- provide some antidote to the uneasy sharpness of the real world. The problem is that our real world is increasingly, but perhaps subconsciously, legitimising this fugacious enterprise with companies ‘buying into’ these individuals to advertise products, services, and experiences.

Ostensibly, there’s nothing wrong with this: it is but an extension of the capitalist ‘gap-scouting’ machine. It makes sense, it’s good business. But what does it mean for society? And is this really a career path? Perhaps if you are already trained in a skill or profession then social media provides a platform to share your work, but constructing your life goal around gaining followers, surely makes for nothing but a hollow existence of screen-slaving glory. I cannot be the only one who sees the lunacy; after all, Jesus’ twelve have proven ample.

It’s fair to say that the unyielding struggle of the past year has served to enormously inflate the seductiveness of internet fame: with the number of people using TikTok, in the UK alone, increasing by a staggering 75.2% since September 2020. Perhaps this doesn’t come as much of a surprise; with so much time on our hands, the charm of the ‘aimless scroll’ has never been so enticing. I am confident that most of us are guilty of these indulgent flicks through social media, somewhat bemused by a funny video or a relatable meme. Despite this, I am still reluctant to see this content being created as something worthy of note: forgive my crudeness, but can this really be considered anything more than dancing monkeys prodding for alike?

There is, of course, a far darker side to cyber-obsession and admittedly, it almost pains me to address this facet of digital existence; not because it is not important, far from it, in fact, the devastation of this situation is marked by its urgency. What many of us overlook, is the fact that we are existing in a time of rampant surveillance capitalism, which is being enabled by the increasing commodification of knowledge. Last year, Netflix released “The Social Dilemma”, a documentary which I would urge everyone to watch: the show managed to expertly capture the problematic nature of the unregulated digital market which feeds off advertising and sponsorship. Since watching the program, I have been haunted by the quote, “when a product is free, you are the product”: in a world that revolves around rapidity, money sleeps in the cracks of images that make us pause. Perhaps what many of us fail to realise, is that social media platforms track every single movement, identifying what makes you stop, click, like, tweet and most fundamentally, what keeps you hooked. The cultivation of influencer culture, therefore, is a direct product of the environment of digital determinism: the algorithmic glory of internet fame is generated by the harvesting and manipulation of the consumer, i.e., you.

Then there is, of course, the deaths. Suicide rates have soared in conjunction with the expediential growth of the internet and the power of its influence. According to the Office of National Statistics, suicide rates in the United Kingdom have been on the rise since 2010; a trend which is not vacuous and must be understood to be a direct product of the deadly rise of social media platforms. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, along with all the others most fundamentally, are businesses: they are not child psychologists or safeguarding experts, they are corporate giants sucking on the pulp of cosmic capitalism. Thus, these harrowing suicide statistics are of no great shock to me when eleven-year-old girls are being influenced by a standard of beauty that is simply unobtainable- in reach, but not in grasp. Perhaps it’s clear by now that this is exactly the point: the business model of social media platforms are constructed by enticement, not obtainment, they must make us want to come back – successfully satisfying a standard makes us, as a consumer, disposable.

What Is the solution then? There has been chatter about the potential taxation of data collection to de-incentivise social media giants from extensive data harvesting. Alternatively, there is the nuclear option: we could shut down the internet. However, I can’t help but feel that both options are ineffective and downright ridiculous. Instead, I’m choosing to put my money on something far more feasible, and that is the power of laughter. We’ve all heard that saying, “laugh in the face of adversity” and honestly, it bears fruit: the minute we reduce this fugacious enterprise to nothing but an expression of mirth, we have won. Learning to see these targeted adverts, beyond-obtainable standards and fame-clawing influencers as nothing but cogs in a money-grabbing eco-system that feeds off the attention you ascribe it, the business model is broken and the cyber illusion, shattered.

Whilst the aimless scroll is unlikely to fade anytime soon, let us ensure it remains just that… aimless. May we scroll with more than scepticism, may we scroll also, with humour and poke fun at the incessant prod for our invaluable attention.

India Dunkley

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