As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, influencers have recently come under fire for their inability to cooperate with coronavirus prevention guidelines. TikTok and Instagram influencer Charli Jordan from the United States was recently called out for traveling overseas to Rwanda, where she received a false positive test for the coronavirus. Well-known YouTuber Jake Paul was similarly criticized for hosting a party in July at his Calabasas mansion, a party that Paul later defended as part of the right to not stop living his life just because of a pandemic — a convenient excuse to flaunt his continuous disregard of public safety.
According to Los Angeles-based creator Elijah Daniel, many other influencers have tested positive for the coronavirus after attending such parties and have chosen to keep silent to avoid public backlash.
It’s inevitable that influencers who participate in ill-timed trips and other inappropriate actions will have a negative impact on their viewers, who may subsequently feel inclined to engage in the risky behavior being promoted. In light of this, it is essential that influencers actively reconsider the extent to which they can promote a positive “influence” for the sake of society, especially during a pandemic.
Influencers should act as role models by promoting a certain image or lifestyle, presumably one that has a positive impact on viewers. Neglecting to wear a mask or consistently going out to party not only defeats the purpose of this ability to positively influence attitudes, but it also has a detrimental effect on public health and exacerbates the effects of a worsening global health crisis. In these influencers’ attempts to provide a source of entertainment for their followers, they are also blatantly disregarding the real, harmful impact of their failure to adhere to these guidelines.
Influencers need to look critically at what exactly they want their influence to be, especially amid the ongoing pandemic. Social media and digital platforms can be immensely helpful for spreading information about necessary precautions, but they can also become sources for misinformation with regard to such guidelines. It goes without saying that anyone with a platform should attempt to raise awareness about how to best cope during the coronavirus pandemic rather than deliberately and shamelessly flaunt the privilege they have by disregarding public safety rules. In turn, part of this responsibility also falls on viewers to call out influencers when they’re perpetuating harmful behavior patterns — specifically actions that, on a public health level, can be considered dangerous.
It’s worth noting, of course, that for every influencer who engages in risky behavior, there are a handful who are promoting positive lifestyles in quarantine and at home. L.A.-based YouTuber Jenn Im, for example, who previously produced content centered on attending festivals and luxury brand events, hasn’t let a pandemic stop her from producing primarily safe, socially-distanced content, including videos such as “What I Ate in a Week (Healthy Asian Recipes)” and “A Day in My Life in Quarantine.” Such content demonstrates that instead of attempting to recapture their pre-pandemic lifestyles, influencers should reconsider what new angles they can apply to their content.
This new form of innovative content isn’t just for the sake of the general public. Finding new ways to engage followers during quarantine can reassure viewers that influencers are, like everyone else, just trying to get through challenging times. In doing so, influencers might find that the “lifestyle” they’ve been attempting to market to their audiences doesn’t necessarily have to be one of glamorous parties and lavish entertainment. Instead, a more relatable lifestyle might be the one that currently piques viewers’ curiosity.
Creating considerate coronavirus content can remind viewers of the importance of shared spaces for empathy in the digital space. As such, influencers need to reconsider how best they can adapt their content to the pandemic while making a positive contribution to society. That may not have been the kind of influence they originally intended — but it’s the kind of influence society needs.