The grubby world of social media influencers

It is fascinating to read about cultures that one is ignorant of and with the arrival of the internet and social media, one hears of many such micro-cultures. I have been vaguely curious about the phenomenon of so-called ‘influencers’ who are, as far as I can see, people who promote themselves via social media and as a result others take their opinions on things seriously, even if they have no credentials whatsoever other than their social media popularity. It seems pretty weird to me but then I am not of the social media world.

This article examines a new documentary that looks into the creation of three such people.

Working a menial job is hard, but “Fake Famous” demonstrates that being an influencer, too, can be a tedious kind of labor. In one amusing sequence, Bilton takes us behind the scenes of a photo shoot in which Dominique and Wylie are shown partaking in one-per-cent-like activities such as sipping champagne and eating chocolates poolside at the Four Seasons, relaxing blissfully on an international flight, and receiving a luxurious spa treatment. All of this, however, is smoke and mirrors: in the pictures, which are shot in quick succession at a single location, a toilet seat held aloft mimics a plane’s window, the champagne is apple juice, the chocolates are pats of butter dipped in cocoa powder, and the rose-petal-infused spa basin is a plastic kiddie pool.

Most influencers, Bilton tells us—even, reportedly, mega-successful ones, like Kim Kardashian—have expedited their climb to the top of the social-media pyramid by purchasing followers, in order to inflate their engagement metrics. It’s in the best interest of social-media companies and their Wall Street investors to turn a blind eye to this practice, Bilton explains, as whirring stacks of hundred-dollar bills flash on the screen, because these puffed-up numbers equal increased proceeds.

Influencers “don’t make you feel better about yourself,” Bilton says, toward the end of the documentary. “The entire concept of influencing is to make you feel worse.” This statement is followed by an ominous montage of designer-label-clad children posing on Instagram, harbingers of a future that has already arrived. All this seems a bit rich coming from a project dedicated to the remaking of regular people as influencers.

Social media has really spawned some really strange new business models.


  1. says

    There is a photo studio in LA that has a pretty realistic “Gulfstream jet” interior that can be rented hourly. Also, a good replica of the front/hood of a Bugatti Veyron. Honestly, I think it’s kind of funny the stupid shit people fall for. It’s Hollywood! Nothing is real.

  2. blf says

    (This is a reconstructed crosspost from YouTube, your ads suck here at FtB.)

    As a reminder that paid-for “click here” ads are not the only form of advertising on the WWW — or, if you include e-mail campaigns and spam, the Internet (broadly speaking) — Tobacco giant bets £1bn on influencers to boost “more lung-friendly” sales:

    Flashing an ice-white smile for her 50,000 followers on TikTok, a fresh-faced young woman pops a flavoured nicotine pouch into her mouth, as one of Pakistan’s most popular love songs plays in the background.

    More than 3,000 miles away, in Sweden, another social media starlet lip-syncs for the camera, to a different pop tune. The same little pouches, made by British American Tobacco [BAT], appear in shot.

    Critics say that such viral videos, even if they aren’t paid-for adverts, are the consequence of a global marketing push designed to offset dwindling cigarette consumption by recruiting the nicotine consumers of the future.

    BAT has embarked on a £1bn campaign that harnesses the popular appeal of social media influencers, pop stars and sporting events.

    According to a wide-ranging report by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, it has also attracted younger adults, non-smokers and even reached the eyes of children.

    An employee of a public relations firm engaged by BAT in Kenya was so concerned about the bureau’s report into its marketing practices that they offered a reporter a bribe for inside information about it.


    BAT makes much of how such products are helping adult smokers switch to less harmful alternatives, under the slogan “A Better Tomorrow”.

    By 2023, the company expects to be targeting 500 million nicotine consumers with £100bn [sic (I assume the Grauniad means million, not billion)] a year to spend. Products other than cigarettes are driving much of that growth.

    [… S]uch products are far from risk-free and the trend for promoting them via social media and popular influencers is causing concern.

    Lyft [brand name of one of the poisons –blf] has no tobacco in it but does contain nicotine, making it an over-18s product. Yet multiple TikTok videos feature Swedes who appear to be of school age using them. The hashtag #lyftsnus has nearly 13 million views.

    In the US and Europe, BAT has told regulators that nicotine products are intended to help adult smokers replace cigarettes. That’s somewhat at odds with a slide from a 2019 presentation to investors, entitled “Nicotine consumer pool continues to grow”.


    The company certainly seems to be after new nicotine users, rather than just people quitting smoking.

    Its marketing campaign for Velo [another poison brand –blf] in Pakistan, using the hashtag #openthecan on Facebook[factsbork] and Instagram, used 40 influencers, garnering more than 13 million views.


    One 17-year-old in Pakistan told the bureau they were offered a free sample without being asked for ID.

    On an official Velo social media account, another Pakistani man confided that Velo was his first dalliance with nicotine. The company responded, saying it was “so excited”.


    Taylor Billings, of Corporate Accountability, said social media campaigns were bound to reach a young audience. “The tobacco industry is too well resourced for things to be a coincidence,” she said. “They are not accidentally placing shiny adverts on a platform that have a vast percentage of its users as Gen Z or young millennials.”


    BAT’s own investor presentations show that at least half of users of nicotine pouches and vapourisers are “new entrants”.

    During a video update on BAT’s progress, Paul Lageweg, director of new categories, boasted of the appeal of nicotine pouches among adult Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) and millennials.

    [… more, including the attempted bribe…]

  3. jenorafeuer says

    When you get right down to it, the ‘influencer’ is just the latest expression of the concept of ‘celebrity’… where somebody is primarily famous just for being famous rather than for anything underlying it. And we’ve known for generations that far too many people treat celebrities as role models. The entire point of an ‘influencer’ is to create a mini-celebrity specifically for use in marketing.

  4. mailliw says

    There has been a lot of fuss made recently about the social media influencers “on holiday” in Dubai.

    In fact they have been offered substantial incentives by the Sultan of Dubai to go and live there. They get an “influencers’ licence”.

    They must of course say only very positive things about Dubai.

    Any mention of the slavery like conditions endured there by workers from the Indian subcontinent will result in their instant expulsion.

    For those of you who understand German, the satirist Jan Böhmermann did an exposé in his programme ZDF Magazin Royale:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *