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Influencer is a popular career choice for young people, but it has a dark side

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A poll 2019 found that kids would rather be YouTubers than astronauts. It made headlines and sparked a lot of grumbling about “children today”. But it is not surprising that young people – up to 1.3 million in the UK – want to earn their income by creating content on social media.

The global influencer market was valued $13.8 billion (£11.2 billion) in 2021. Individual influencers like Zoella and Deliciously Ella are worth it £4.7 million and £2.5 million respectively. About 300,000 people aged 18-26 are already in use content creation as their sole source of income.

The lifestyles we see advertised on social media are enticing, but does it affect a viable career path? Beneath the glossy exterior hides a precarious income, wage inequality based on gender, race and disability, and mental health problems. In my research with travel influencers and content creators, I have observed these effects, which young people who want to become influencers should be aware of.

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Successful influencers will be the first to claim that anyone can make it in the industry. Love Island participant and influencer Molly Mae Haag was criticized for proverb that everyone “has the same 24 hours in a day” because in reality few people “make it” financially as influencers.

Brooke Erin Duffy, an expert on social media economics, researches the careers of fashion bloggers, beauty vloggers and designers. In her book (Not) Getting paid to do what you love, she discovered a huge gap between those who find a lucrative career as influencers and everyone else. For most people trying to become an influencer, their passion content creation projects often turn into free work for corporate brands.

in a April 2022 report, Parliament’s Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has identified wage differentials as a key issue in the influencer industry. There are wage differences based on gender, race and disability. The referenced DCMS report: a 2020 study by MSL Groupa global public relations firm, which found that there is a 35% racial pay gap between white and black influencers.

Adesuwa Ajayi, senior talent and partnerships lead at AGM Talent, started an Instagram account called influencer pay gap to emphasize these differences. The account provides a platform where influencers anonymously share stories about their experiences collaborating with brands. In addition to racial inequalities, the account also exposed pay gaps experienced by the disabled and LGBTQ+ influencers. Most influencers are self-employed, often have inconsistent incomes and a lack of protections associated with permanent employment, such as entitlement to sick pay and vacation.

The risks of self-employment are exacerbated in the influencer industry by the lack of industry standards and little transparency about pay. Influencers are often forced to assess their own worth and determine the remuneration for their work. As a result, content creators often underestimate their own creative labor, and many end up working for free.

Power to the platforms

Influencers are also often at the mercy of algorithms: the computer programs behind the scenes that determine which messages are shown to users in which order. Platforms share few details about their algorithms, but ultimately determine who and what gets visibility (and influence) on social media.

In her work with Instagram influencers, algorithm expert Kelley Cotter emphasizes how the pursuit of influence is becoming “a game of visibility.” Influencers interact with the platform (and algorithm) in ways they hope will reward them with visibility. In my research, I found that influencers were sharing increasingly intimate and personal moments in their lives and posting relentlessly to stay relevant.

The threat of invisibility is a constant source of uncertainty for influencers, who are under constant pressure to feed platforms with content. If they don’t, they can be “punished” by the algorithm – by hiding posts or showing them lower in search results.

Mental health crisis

Constant online presence eventually leads to one of the influencer industry’s most pervasive problems: mental health concerns. Influencers can connect to their platform workspaces and audience at any time of the day or night – for many there is no clear separation between work and life. Coupled with the fear of losing visibility, this can lead to influencers overworking and dealing with mental health issues such as burnout.

Online visibility also exposes content creators to significant online abuse, both in terms of how they look or what they do (or don’t post), as well as negative perceptions of influence as a career. The potential of online abuse can lead to mental and physical health problemsincluding depression, anxiety, body dysmorphism and eating disorders.

While it may seem appealing to more and more people to become an influencer, the dark underside of the industry needs to be exposed and enhanced through improved labor regulation and industry-led cultural change.

If you are struggling or think you could benefit from mental health care, talk to your GP and/or try contacting support organizations such as The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, The Samaritans or Campaign against miserable life (CALM). There is also information on wellbeing and support through the NHS website.

Article by Nina WillmentResearch assistant, Department of Geography, York University

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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