500,000 Instagram followers? Check.
200,000 Youtube followers? Check.
60,000 Snapchat followers? Check.
These are the statistics of an eighteen-year-old girls’ social media following, an impressive accumulation of followers that she influenced on a daily basis. However, one day all of her posts vanished into thin air with the exception of one bold, hard-hitting YouTube video: the up-and-coming social media star was quitting social media altogether.
The concept was shocking for most of her generation. Becoming a social media star is a celebrated and sought after profession amongst young teenagers and adults in the digital age. Having the capacity to influence and generate an enviable income is considered the ultimate in the eyes of many young, impressionable people. However, quitting had never been an option, especially willingly giving up what was considered a charmed life.
The YouTube video posted by the girl, Essena O’Neil delivered some hard-hitting thoughts on what being an influencer really was like. She went into detail as to how life was really like beyond the bubble of carefully constructed pictures and posts, explaining how mentally draining and physically exhausting it really was, eventually exclaiming,
“Without realising, I’ve spent majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media.”
Essena’s story brings to light the ethics of being and working with a social media influencer, and questions as to how much control brands should have promoting and sponsoring these influencers.
Should there be a background check into the influencers wellbeing? Should there be face to face meetings to determine as to whether the influencer in question has the ability mentally and physically to professionally handle the job in question, much like any other employee must go through? And if successful, does the brand have the responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of the influencer through the time they are employed by them, just as they would to an employee in their office?
It is important for brands and big corporations to realise that as perfect as an influencer’s life may seem, there is the strong possibility that it’s all just a methodically constructed faux-reality, and that when hiring these influencers, especially considering a great majority are under-age, that ethics are incorporated into the offers and opportunities of employment that are presented, and that it continues throughout employment.
In Ms. O’Neil’s own words, “Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers.”