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Opinion – We need an improved vetting process for influencers

The recent Molly-Mae scandal has exposed the deeply problematic nature of influencer culture in the digital age, signifying it’s time we introduced better regulations for social media personalities and their platforms.

When I first learned of the backlash surrounding Molly-Mae Hague’s controversial ‘we all have the same 24 hours in a day’ comment, my initial reaction wasn’t disbelief towards the obvious insensitivity of such a statement, rather a reignited sense of alarm that yet another social media personality has found themselves in hot water.

And without consequence it seems (what’s new), given the 22-year-old had returned to posting as normal just a few days later, shortly after signing a seven-figure contract with luxury hair extension company Beauty Works.

If you’re in need of a re-cap, Molly-Mae is an influencer who already had a significant following before Love Island propelled her to fame in 2019.

In subsequent years her reputation and reach have ballooned, landing her multiple brand deals and a role as creative director of PrettyLittleThing – the fast fashion company that’s infamous for subcontracting garment workers for as little as £3.50 per hour, way below the UK minimum wage.

Hague has so far earned well over £1m from this position, but it wasn’t the reason she became subject to a Twitter furore last week.

Instead it was her interview on the podcast Diary of a CEO, where she insinuated that people can simply motivate and hustle themselves out of poverty if they ‘want it enough.’

‘It just depends on what lengths you want to go to, to get to where you want to be in the future,’ she said, drawing upon the tired adage of everyone having the equivalent time as Beyoncé to accomplish their goals, a reference that speaks to a fundamental flaw at the heart of the influencer economy and the shifting ways we conceive of ‘work.’

Criticism online has been rife, pulling back the curtain on an entire sector of mainstream marketing that sells followers a misguided idea of what it means to live an aspirational lifestyle in a world that is pertinently unequal.

The paradox of Instagram ‘girl boss grinders’ offering efficiency tips to an audience of which some are struggling to pay their bills has no doubt been meticulously dissected before, but the discussion has been reignited by Hague’s disarming honesty, lack of self-awareness, and refusal to acknowledge her own privilege.

How necessary this renewed conjecture is and its effectiveness at creating any tangible change is debatable.

Instead, we need to consider new ways to improve the vetting process for influencers altogether and ensure these kind of incidents don’t happen in the first place. Allow me to explain.

In the digital age, celebrity as we know it has been democratised, at least to a certain extent, bringing new complications previously unseen within the entertainment industry.

Of course, there are still factors at play that help enable success for some and not others, even as the social media era unfolds. Perpetuated beauty standards, aesthetically pleasing physical looks, and a long-term drive all still contribute to career progression and financial gain as they always have done.

However, since anyone can make a digital profile, anyone can now theoretically ‘get famous’ – TikToker Charli D’Amelio is a great example of how unexpectedly this can happen – without having to jump through agencies, contracts, or corporate ladders.

You can quickly wind-up in command of a platform that’s closely observed by millions, a large majority being impressionable young people, without the necessary life skills or perspective.

Influencers may find themselves suddenly in a position of authority over topics and issues they know little to nothing about outside of a very niche, economically privileged bubble.

With so much money flooding into a largely unregulated, still-developing market, all sorts of ethical lapses, such as fraud, deceptive advertising, and poor worker conditions, become buried under branding that appeals to the ‘hustling culture’ of Gen Z and Millennials.

Molly-Mae’s comments have proved this to be the case.

Unfortunately, with social media being so closely controlled by private tech firms and with so many platforms to regulate, no single government can monitor the rise of influencer culture effectively. It’s easy for dodgy information and misguided advice to slip through the cracks more so than usual.

The only way to prevent poor advice from reaching mainstream audiences is to introduce moderation, whether this be through corporate sponsorship, government standards, or simply through new content rules.

Social media has become our go-to for trends, persuasive opinions, and nearly anything else – never has online content been so influential yet so malleable. Surely those touted as the spearheads for this information ought to be moderated to some degree?

If nothing changes, we’re bound to see more podcast moments like Molly-Mae’s. Unqualified conjecture that is willingly distributed to millions without any fact checking or quality assurance.

 

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