Being paid to influence others

Businesses have long realized that we are swayed more by the opinions of our friends and neighbors than by advertisements in the media, which is why social media has become so powerful in shaping messages. For some people, this trust apparently also extends to celebrities on social media since their recommendations are also assumed to be disinterested. So a celebrity who recommends something on Twitter is more likely to sway readers than the same celebrity saying the same thing in a commercial. The former is seen as an honest preference while the latter is just an actor reading someone else’s words.

It turns out that that distinction is false. Apparently, businesses have seized upon this belief to pay celebrities who have large followings on social media to promote their products without informing readers of this. This has come to light in the wake of companies severing ties with actor George Takei after allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused others.

News that several online media companies including Mic, Slate and Refinery29 have severed commercial ties with Star Trek actor George Takei following allegations of sexual assault has shone a light on the little-understood practice of online news sites paying celebrities to post links to their content.

Millennial-focused website Mic reported that it and five other media sites had “ended paid promotion partnerships that once had their articles and videos shared on Takei’s social media platforms” in the wake of an accusation that Takei sexually assaulted a young actor in 1981. Takei denies the claim.

Beyond the allegations against Takei, the news that some media companies pay celebrities to post links to their articles or videos came as a surprise to some – partly because this is not usually disclosed on the social media posts.

“Publishers that rely on social media as a distribution tool might pay to have their articles and videos shared by well-known figures or Facebook pages that have large, loyal followings,” Mic’s report on its severing of ties with Takei read.

Takei – who in 2012 was named the most influential person on Facebook by the Daily Dot – has almost 10 million followers on Facebook and almost three million on Twitter and frequently posts links to a wide variety of articles, often from obscure video websites or news aggregators with content as banal as cartoon unicorns or whether you should order one or two hamburgers at the fast food joint, as well as more high-profile publishers such as the New York Times. It is unclear from his posts which publishers pay him.

Top influencers can make $75,000 for a product post on Instagram and a staggering $185,000-plus for a plug on YouTube, according to a report in the New York Times.

The article goes on to name other celebrities who indulge in the practice of being paid promoters. There is a performer named Lil Wayne who has 50 million followers on Twitter and that “his feed is full of links to heartwarming animal and human interest videos distributed by a UK agency with international reach, Caters News. He also links to random items on news aggregator website Providr and other obscure sites, and was reportedly an early partner of Ashton Kutcher’s news website APlus, though has not linked to that website via Facebook lately.”

We should assume that any celebrity endorsement, on whatever platform, is a paid promotion, unless provided evidence to the contrary.

As an aside, I have no idea who Lil Wayne is or what he does and the fact that has 50 million followers shows just how out of touch I am with popular culture. Geezer pride, baby!


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