Andrew Tate develops a self-proclaimed “misogynistic “ rhetoric in his audience according to BBC. Logan Paul makes millions of dollars even after controversies. Swifties make Taylor Swift a role model for activism.
When people idolize influencers, these contentious situations are the result.
How influencers gain a following
Influencers gain a following strategically. Talent can matter, but in the age of social media, there are other factors that hold a lot of weight with younger audiences.
According to Adobe Express, a software developed by Adobe to make graphics and video stories, there are “9 tested tips to boost your Instagram engagement in 2022.” Tips range from mastering aesthetics to tracking engagement to posting at certain times of the day. They’re meant for anyone trying to gain a following on Instagram, but it’s easy to see these strategies used by professional influencers and celebrities on many different platforms.
For example, Taylor Swift has a brand: She goes through eras, capitalizes on aesthetics and uses “easter eggs” — or hidden messages — to engage her fans. According to the Today Show, Swift keeps her fans on their toes, alluding to unexpected career moves by incorporating these easter eggs in anything from lyrics to outfits.
If fans want to know her next move, they have to be on the pulse — engaged in her every move. These actions aren’t just tactics to keep fans interested and talking, but she also brands herself as an activist.
For example, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Swift’s music video for “You Need to Calm Down” was an “outwardly LGBTQ-friendly” song, but some saw it as a “fashion statement or marketing ploy.”
Controversy surrounded this video release, as Swift was accused of queerbaiting, comparing her online hate to hate crimes, misrepresenting LGBTQ protesters, and more.
Whether Swift actually takes action on certain issues or supports marginalized demographics different from her is up to interpretation. But, with or without action, the “activist” label appeals to a large audience of young listeners regardless of whether a celebrity actually helps the cause.
Through branding tactics like these, fans become emotionally attached to influencers, making it difficult to distinguish if celebrities are genuine or if every move is carefully calculated.
When problems arise: In controversy
When influencers are idolized, problems arise. One result can be fans’ clouded judgment, especially in times of conflict. When people continue to follow influencers through controversy, the influencers get opportunities that — usually — they don’t deserve.
Take, for example, Logan Paul — an influencer who has been “canceled” many times.
According to Business Insider, Paul recorded a dead body in Japan’s “suicide forest” in 2017. Soon after, he released a video of him tasering dead rats, and later in his podcast “Impaulsive,” he said he was “going gay” for a month. These are only a few of Paul’s controversies.
However, Paul is still successful today. According to Forbes, he made $18 million in 2021, recently signed a multi-year contract with WWE and has four million podcast subscribers and 23.5 million YouTube subscribers.
Paul has been in a lot of controversies, but he still has loyal fans who continue to support him through views and engagement, providing him with many opportunities. So, even though he’s widely seen as a morally corrupt individual, he’s still rich and successful.
This is a prime example of fans following a problematic individual even when they’re exposed, further allowing them to be successful.
Fans should be more aware of who they’re supporting and recognize when their judgment is clouded. In doing this, influencers that cause harm through their platform will be stripped of their power.
When problems arise: Social and moral development
When consuming so much media from an influencer, a strong connection is built. Followers idolize these creators as they would role models in real life, which can corrupt social development and shift core values. Andrew Tate is an influencer who has this effect on his fans.
Originally a kickboxer, Tate became popular after appearing on the 18th season of Big Brother and has had a growing platform ever since, now a content creator on YouTube and TikTok.
Tate’s content is advertised through his subscription service, Hustler’s University, to young men who wanted to become successful. He influenced 127,000 subscribers, who idolized his money and his strong, masculine energy.
His podcast, “Tate Speech,” has also had a horrible influence on young men. Claiming to help men, Tate would give misogynistic advice to his listeners according to BBC. For example, he said women were purely a status symbol and that depression isn’t real. He would describe his own personal sexist anecdotes and follow them with bold, controversial statements.
But even after being called out for his various sexist comments, Tate remained firm in his beliefs, claiming he doesn’t make mistakes.
Tate encouraged his viewers to learn from his experiences and apply his ideas to their own lives, who then trusted and identified with Tate because they idolized him. After years of solidifying core values, these young men abandoned them to support Tate calling them their “god”
In 2022, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube have removed his content from their platforms due to violations of their policies.
According to the Washington Post, Tate has been arrested for rape allegations and has been suspected of running a human trafficking ring. Recently the Romanian court has extended his detention for the third time as reported by The Guardian.
When problems arise: Treatment of others
Emotional attachment to influencers and celebrities can also be harmful because it creates rivalries between fans. Some fans are willing to commit acts of violence, cyberbully and verbally and digitally harass people to protect their idols.
An example of this is when Selena Gomez fans began harassing Justin Bieber’s wife, Hailey Baldwin. Gomez and Justin started dating back in 2011, on and off for years. Fans became obsessed with the couple.
So when Bieber and Baldwin started dating in 2016, some fans were distraught. After their marriage was covered by news outlets, Gomez fans made up rumors that Bieber cheated on Gomez with Baldwin, calling Baldwin names like “homewrecker” in her Instagram comments. Baldwin had to beg commenters to “leave her alone” in a TikTok response.
There was only a reduction in the harassment when Gomez made a statement to her fans, saying “No one ever should be spoken to in a manner that I’ve seen.”
What can we do about it?
Benjamin Blankenship, a psychology professor at JMU, offered a psychological perspective on this topic.
Being a “fan” in modern-day culture shapes identity, he said. Often, people don’t just appreciate someone’s content, but they label themselves as a follower or subscriber. By “taking on these identities,” Blakenship said, you “embed that as a part of who you are.”
Blankenship also said associating with other individuals or groups of people helps us understand who we are and “communicate to others who we are.”
However, when groups of people come together under these social identities, groupthink is likely to occur. According to SimplyPsychology, groupthink can be a dangerous way of united thinking that can lead to unwise or unrealistic decisions.
This can be caused by a lack of diversity in groups and lack of outside perspectives, and it can lead people to obey authority without question.
So, humans are not only inclined to respect influencers, but they actually take on that liking as a part of who they are, which influences their actions.
When discussing these actions, Blankenship introduced the term “prestige bias,” meaning if an individual has prestige or a following, humans are more likely to acknowledge and agree with their opinion. This can lead people astray, believing false truths or misinformation.
This idea explains why companies pay celebrities and influencers to endorse their products. Even though the celebrity has no expertise in the area, people are willing to purchase the product simply because it was recommended by a famous person. Blankenship said people should believe experts instead.
People should be aware of who they’re listening to and keep prestige bias in check, whether that’s during celebrity controversy, developing core values, interacting with other people, or simply choosing to follow someone.
Another way someone can combat the effects of influencer idolization is to diversify who they follow. Blankenship said that by listening to both those who you agree with and those who you don’t agree with, you can truly develop what you believe — and this truth will most likely be in the middle somewhere.
Intense attachment to influencers is problematic. Don’t let who you follow determine who you are and how you navigate society.
Ava Menoni is a freshman, Media Arts & Design major. Contact Ava at email@example.com. For more editorials regarding the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the opinion desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Opinion.
Mary Mabry is a freshman communication studies major. Contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more editorials regarding the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the opinion desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Opinion.