Influencers’ reach is long, growing

Influencers are everywhere. Sometimes a person can be influenced by an author, teacher, movie star or even just a friend who they may share things in common with, or absolutely nothing in common at all. Influencers are actually nothing new. Influencers have actually been a thing for a long time now. 

According to, in the 1700s the first influencer was Josiah Wedgewood. He sought a royal endorsement for his pottery so that lesser nobles and regular citizens might want his pottery too. After all, the pottery was good enough for a king or queen. 

Then in more modern times there was Fatty Arbuckle who in 1905 was a popular comedian who was paid to represent an unhealthy product. Arbuckle was the first paid celebrity to endorse a commercial product, Murad Cigarettes. Of course, at that time it was not understood that it was unhealthy, and all that people had thought was that he made the product look cool. 

Since that time, commercials with endorsers have become the norm in advertising, TV and magazines. Celebrities, models and sports stars can sell things as well, so that brings us to today where influencers are not just marketing a product but a lifestyle to go with it.

Sometimes influencers can just be regular people with a big following because there is something that makes them usual. There are even very young influencers like Ryan from Ryan’s World, who play with toys, and other kids watch him and they think, “Oh! I want that toy too!” The young viewer is watching Ryan like he is a familiar friend to them. The young viewer does not realize they are watching an advertisement. Should children be involved in so much marketing of products?

In an article for, Josh Golin, the executive director of Fairplay, a nonprofit that works to make the internet a safer place for kids said, “Unboxing videos are one of the most popular genres on YouTube, and that’s fundamentally unfair to younger kids because they don’t understand the persuasive intent that that person is selling them something and that they should discount like what Ryan is saying in a Ryan’s toy review because Ryan is being compensated.” 

This is when parents should be wondering what their kids are watching. Not that toys are bad, but these are 20 minute commercials. There’s a huge landscape of influencers to choose from, some more positive than others.

Selena Gomez, with the fifth highest following on Instagram, 325 million, is known for being the most positive influencer on social media with her body positivity advice and educating followers on the disease called Lupus. 

There is a group of Tik Tok influencers called Hype house that have a huge following of 21 million, and they focus on promoting merchandise and brands in attempts to sell the idea, ‘’If you have this product, you are cool’’ and overall mediocre content in general.

Greta Thunberg, with 14.6 followers, is an autistic climate justice activist who promotes climate change awareness. Although her posts can incite trolls, or deniers, she still has people talking 

about climate change, which is positive. She uses social media to inform people about important issues and has found a positive use of social media, as she has engaged many youth and adults.

Perhaps the most talked about influencers, the Kardashian family, has amassed 1.2 billion followers on the planet earth. The family promotes their brands, their lifestyle, human rights and impossible beauty standards. That’s quite a mix! What is curious is that the platform providers are acutely aware of issues with their apps and young people.

In a Wall Street Journal investigation, they found that Facebook was aware of the impact from their Instagram app on young girls, noting that, “Facebook found that Instagram is harmful to a sizable percentage of [teens], most notably teenage girls.” It also revealed that social comparison and body image issues impact teens more than adults, with some of the most “intense experiences” being social comparison, loneliness, stress and depression. Nearly half of all teen girls on Instagram feel they “often or always compare their appearance” to others on the platform, and a third “feel intense pressure to look perfect.” This is what young people are up against in the most difficult mental period of their lives.

Although that seems dire indeed, there is a positive twist to young people’s love/hate of social media and influencers; it is that social media has become a viable career path, as universities and community colleges all over the world have or are creating degree programs in social media, digital interactive studies. More and more young people look toward careers as YouTubers, content creators, social media influencers, and perhaps with guided education, the new content creators will create content of worth and value.

At the University of Northern Iowa, digital studies program professor Dr. Bettina Fabos is definitely leaning toward a positive use of social media in her responses about new media and youth. In response to questions about the new medium she had this to say:

What do you think are the positive and negative effects Influencers have on today’s youth?

“Influencers are the new advertising personalities who are setting media standards for representation, body image and behavior. It’s not much different than the way magazines and TV models have influenced culture before the model industry became ‘democratized’ by social media—dominant beauty standards are ever present (white, thin, young, blond). However, because audiences can be so micro-targeted, there is room for new representations of beauty to permeate the dominant status quo—queer influencers, influencers representing many different ethnic minority groups—so this is a positive. But here are two negatives: influencers are expected to present a ‘perfect’ version of themselves to the public, which is not a true representation, and is stressful to maintain (look at Essena Oneil and her public breakdown). The other thing is that the content is shallow and always connected to consumption, since that is how influencers get their money. The message of ‘you’ll be happy when you buy this’ is as strong as ever, and that is not a great message.”

How do you see the role of “Influencers” evolving as digital media evolves?

“As long as hyper capitalism continues to drive influencers (as it has over the history of media messaging), it’s going to stay pretty much the same. Nowadays though there is an excess of ‘influencers’ on every social media platform, and it can be overwhelming for young people with devices. They get a weird idea of how to become famous in seconds, or what makes life worth living, what is the best way to become famous, so it seems though influencers will not be going anywhere The role will evolve as digital media evolves. Everyone at some point in their lives will be influenced by someone. After all, a parents or guardians’ main job is to influence their children gently, on behavior, aspirations and goals. Some advice, do look for influencers that teach, inform, inspire and make you feel positive. Do avoid the ones that send your self worth spiraling into a dark hole data stream.”

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