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Digital Influencers Playing Rising Role During Pandemic

But caution urged for those thinking about following such leaders’ advice for subjects in which they have no expertise.

How much does an influencer really influence?

Influencers, in this case, are people whose digital presence in social media has given them hundreds, thousands, or even millions of online followers.

They have earned the credibility of their followers. Nowadays, due to the pandemic, many of them have wanted to set an example for getting through the COVID-19 crisis.

The question is: have they accomplished that goal? The answer is mixed.

“When the pandemic was announced, I began following the recommendations of an influencer I have followed for a long time,” says María Elena Ramírez, a 24 years-old Mexican with a degree in Languages from the Universidad Veracruzana. “Thanks to her, I discovered a store where I bought some neoprene face masks. However, some months later, the health authorities recommended not using neoprene face masks, so, for me, it was an awfully bad investment.”

These online personalities began their digital careers through apps such as Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.

Followers have, in the palm of their hands, access to many online personalities who give advice and rate products and ideas. It is quite easy to follow whoever they like. (Maddi Bazzocco/Unsplash)

They became public personalities who have the benefit of being able to report quickly about practically anything to their followers, thanks to their access to the Internet.

Many business and micro-entrepreneurs have been favored by influencers, as they usually recommend the business where they have had good experiences. These online personalities are often rewarded with free items or food coupons, so long as they continue to back the brands or restaurants in their videos or daily life, via cups, pens, or even coffee thermos. Various artists and entrepreneurs who want to gain more customers contact influencers to make a mutual beneficial deal.

The risk of influencers during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the pandemic, some influencers have given out information about official health policies to their audience, to make more people aware and avoid spreading COVID-19.

Nonetheless, as Ramirez’s experience shows, people need to be cautious when following an influencer’s advice.

“Coronavirus has brought forward many expressions of love, of the beauty of the human spirit and responsibility to our peer’s health,” said Édgar García, a clinical psychologist from the Cristobal Colón University in Veracruz, México. “However, there are some influencers who have made mistakes in their advice, affecting their followers.”

“Whenever someone opens their social media, they can come across an influencer promoting certain face masks or a brand,” said García. “They can also recommend certain restaurants or places to visit without any health risk. Some of these influencers, due to their massive number of followers, can cause a considerable impact in the communities.”

Influencers may be popular, yet that does not make them experts on health or other important issues. (Laura Chouette/Unsplash)

It’s important to note that influencers typically are not experts themselves. They can end up giving advice or making statements that are not backed by actual experts.

The United States Federal Trade Commission warns that people who advertise items online are subject to legal disclosure statements, yet almost no one uses them.

Having online influence is powerful. Modernity allows people to have great reach on their life, although government officials caution that people should take a moderate stance when following health advice from online personalities.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez; edited by Matthew B. Hall)