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When Nano and Micro Social Media Influencers Mix with Politics

                                  Source: transparencyliveshere.com

Who do you think of when you imagine a social media influencer? Perhaps a beauty mogul with five million followers who fills your feed with discount codes and 24-hour documentation of their latest stay in Dubai’s finest hotel? Our stereotypical vision of an influencer does often resemble this airbrushed luxury-loving brand ambassador with perfect teeth, but an increasing number of lesser-known influencers are choosing to blur the boundaries and make their way into the political realm. 

How much influence should these influencers have? Many social media influencers, politicians and journalists alike have engaged in both political simplification and distributing misinformation. However, while many politicians have become bastions of hypocrisy by making a career out of false promises and spreading misinformation, their large platforms and follower bases ensure that their public actions are usually seen by the many, rather than the few. Nano-influencers can have anywhere between 1K to 10K followers, whereas micro-influencers can have up to 50K followers: with their smaller platforms allowing personal relationships with their followers, they are rarely the subject of intense examination.  

More influencers are beginning to engage in traditional political processes, as well as specific
cause-related advocacy. Not only are influencers urging their followers to vote in upcoming elections, but they also promote the importance for social equality and the fight against social injustice. Following the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, celebrities and influencers alike used their platforms to distribute sources of information surrounding the importance of Black Lives Matter (BLM). Influencers were urged by their followers to use their platforms to spread the message, and to stop posting their usual content. 

Source: Instagram.com

We saw millions of black squares in the name of #BlackoutTuesday, and a carefully curated list of videos detailing the ins and outs of systemic racism. While innumerable BLM posts remain, their advocacy for BLM was certainly short-lived. Soon enough, they returned to distributing their usual content. Black lives still matter, yet BLM content is no longer on trend. Of course, carefully choosing which matters of injustice to post about is not exclusive to social media influencers. Many politicians also paint themselves as advocates against the permeation of injustice, but also pick and choose which issues would be most beneficial to highlight for their public profile. 

However, both nano and micro-influencers do not face the same level of criticism as political figures, despite acting as informants for their followers. There are a multitude of critical newspapers and opposing politicians waiting to expose political figures for their blatant hypocrisy and simplification of certain issues. 

With a significant proportion of the Gen-z population using social media to keep up with current affairs, it is concerning to know that many of their role models treat cause-related advocacy as a part-time hobby. After Molly Mae’s we all have the same 24 hours in a daycomment, the backlash she received was exponential. Her Thatcherite ‘tone deaf’ statement was pulled apart by the British public. However, it is much more difficult to address the potential political implications of posts by nano and micro-influencers with much smaller follower bases. 

On a much more sinister scale, politicians are beginning to favour lesser-known influencers over other forms of advertisement to further their political agenda. During the recent 2022 general election in the Philippines, nano and micro- influencers became the essential political marketing mechanism for Bongbong Marcos’s leadership campaign. Opting to avoid professional journalists, Marcos set his sights on paying smaller social media influencers to endorse his campaign to their loyal and impressionable followers. 

Source: businessinsider.com

According to JM Lanuza, “since the influencers have smaller audiences, it's harder to track" their activity, which made it easier for Marcos to control the political narrative and rewrite his family’s dictatorial political past. In the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic, US states of Colorado and Oklahoma paid micro-influencers to urge their followers to get vaccinated. 

On a global level, with nano and micro-influencers benefitting from their ability to personally connect with their smaller follower base, many are swayed by the financial advantages that accompany the spread of partisan political messages. But, overall, it is the loyal social media users that are the manipulated victims in this political charade. 

Source: ypulse.com

With 71% of Gen-Zers using Instagram to obtain news, this bodes well for the 500,000 influencers that permeate the platform. A poll conducted by Survation found that 35% of UK Gen-Z social media users see social media as their primary news source, so it is unsurprising that some people are calling for influencers to be welcomed into the political sphere. 

The Survation poll also found that a larger proportion of the Gen-Z respondents argued that influencers are more trustworthy than politicians. With the Partygate scandal that has gripped UK headlines, who am I to suggest that politicians are more trustworthy? Yet, when lesser-known influencers are hypocritical and scandalous, they are less likely to face the scathing commentary unleashed by international press teams. They may not have as many followers, but nano and micro-influencers combined have the potential to influence a considerable number of social media users. 

Social media influencers do possess a significant amount of power. Imagine if every influencer suddenly decided to increase and expand their content, and use their power for good? After German influencer Rezo decided to use his previously apolitical platform to target the Christian Democratic Union party for their lack of concern for environmental issues, over 70 YouTubers joined together to highlight how conservative parties were failing to take the actions necessary to combat climate change. We have witnessed what social media influencers are capable of and how they do possess the power to push political narrative in a positive direction. 

Source: weforum.org

In a world defined by social media interaction, one thing is for certain: the line between influencers and politics will continue to be blurred. All generations are susceptible to believing fake news, yet more than 1 in 4 Gen-Zers worldwide follow social media influencers. Therefore, they are particularly susceptible to believing information that has not been fact-checked or received a proportionate level of constructive backlash. 

We should not attempt to deny social media influencers of their right to freedom of speech or legislate against experimentation with political content, but we can encourage their followers to remain vigilant and not take everything they witness in the fast-paced sphere of social media at face value. 

Lucy Thomas 

Lucy is an undergraduate BSc Politics and International Relations student at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research interests include social stratification and intersectional feminism. 

LinkedIn: /in/lucy-thomas


When Nano and Micro Social Media Influencers Mix with Politics Reviewed by Lucy Thomas on Wednesday, July 27, 2022 Rating: 5
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