The Case Against Following Social Media Influencers
Beyond being a time suck, those highly curated Instagram posts can affect your well-being
Every week, the Nuance will go beyond the basics, offering a deep and researched look at the latest science and expert insights on a buzzed-about health topic.
Researchers have been writing about the so-called highlight reel effect of social media since at least 2014. The idea is that people tend to post mostly flattering or humblebrag-worthy stuff about themselves, and spending too much time absorbing these gilded depictions of other people’s lives could distort how you view your own.
Some of the latest research suggests that exposure to idealized images — especially those posted by influencers on Instagram — may be fueling the kinds of negative social comparisons that make people feel bad about themselves.
“Many influencers begin as everyday, ordinary internet users, but by producing content that may be based on talent or skill or on disclosures into their lifestyle, they’re able to build an audience,” says Crystal Abidin, an internet and social media researcher with Australia’s Curtin University who has studied influencers and online authenticity. “Once that audience reaches critical mass, then advertisers may work with these influencers to embed sponsored messages into their social media posts.”
Unlike conventional celebrities or paid product endorsers, influencers tend to be viewed by their followers as trusted peers, says Juha Munnukka, a marketing researcher at Finland’s Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics. This is a big deal to advertisers, because there’s evidence that your peers — more so than strangers or celebs — can influence your interests and purchases. “A peer’s perceived similarity with the audience — their trustworthiness, expertise, and attractiveness — are the common aspects that affect their credibility,” Munnukka explains. This credibility translates to persuasiveness, his research has…