The role of influencers amid the COVID-19 lockdown
24th February 2021
There are many unknowns surrounding the extent of damage caused by COVID-19 lockdowns globally, such as the mortality rate or the lack of output and fall in economic growth. COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, severe effects on the physical health of its victims, but it can almost be guaranteed that the hardships – financially, physically, mentally – have hit everyone in all walks of life. National, and even global, solidarity is vital to the slowing down of the virus. People are limiting movements and working from home all for the sake of their loved ones. Our lifestyles have been totally flipped, as we now appreciate the little things that we take for granted in normal times.
Some people have, however, been using this time in lockdown for more selfish endeavours. Celebrities and influencers have been seen ignoring government guidelines and restrictions, and have taken advantage of the diligence and obedience of the masses in order to go to parties and jet-set across the world. Some influencers have been seen to use their position of influence to abuse lockdown rules and pursue their own self gain.
The level of unnecessary extravagance and general tone deafness amongst the influencer community reached new extremes during these last few months. The worst of these, in my opinion, would have to be Kim Kardashian-West. Kardashian-West posted a series of tweets in late October 2020, exhibiting her vast wealth and total disregard for the rules by flying dozens of her friends and family to a private island to celebrate her 40th birthday party. Although ensuring that all the attendants quarantined and partook in numerous health screenings for the fortnight leading up to the trip, Kim quickly upset her audience in the latter half of her thread of tweets. Kim stated that her trip was a chance for her and her family to
“pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.”
This supposed normality includes dancing, swimming with whales, watching movies on the beach and kayaking. None of this is not an aspect of “normal” for the majority of people, and is almost an unattainable dream for the average person.
Many Youtube and TikTok influencers, who have a largely teenage and pre-teen following, have also come under fire in recent months for their attendance at various gatherings and their indifference towards social distancing. In late July, social media influencers flocked to the Hype House, a mansion in LA which is home to a number of TikTok stars. This event sparked a series of large gatherings in the Sway House – another TikToker house – and in Youtuber Jake Paul’s mansion, to name but a few.
Youtuber kodeerants pointed out the insincerity of their apologies – if these influencers even apologise for their actions –
“They apologize, not because they mean it, but only to get people to stop talking about them … If they truly were sorry they would stop going to social events and stay home like the rest of us.”
She also points out the bad example they are setting for their impressionable followers saying that
“These influencers are responsible for being role models for their audiences and all they are doing is showing them that you can do anything you want and you don’t have to care about other people.”
Other celebrities and influencers have been taking it a step further, and disregarding international travel guidelines by vacationing to all corners of the world. Reality TV stars, such as those on Love Island, have been criticised for travelling to Dubai since lockdowns began. Most recently, Amber Rose Gill, winner of the fifth season of Love Island, has been condemned for traveling to Dubai just days after more restrictions were put into place in the UK. She further fanned the flame by posting on her Instagram story, saying that she had no idea what Tier 4 meant:
Love Island star Laura Anderson was also highly criticised after travelling to Dubai. Anderson went to Instagram to address the backlash regarding her trip to Dubai, insisting that the trip was work-related only. She then explained that the work of an influencer is “hard”, and that it is not as appealing as it seems. Fans noticed that the sun-kissed glamour of her Instagram feed says otherwise, and Anderson quickly began to lose followers at an alarming rate. Other Love Island stars experienced similar losses in followings, including Anton Danyluk and Kaz Crossley. According to The Sun, the trio had lost a cumulative total of 33,000 followers, and that number continues to grow.
This loss of following was in part prompted by fellow Love Island star Olivia Atwood. Atwood was commended by her fans, and criticised fellow influencers travelling for work amid restrictions. Posting on her Instagram story, she insisted that she is working more than ever, now that she is working from home, and she encouraged her fans to hit them where it hurts, and unfollow these influencers. She said:
“The way to hurt people is silence because actually, when you are commenting on someone’s photo, even if it’s a bad negative comment, you’re still drumming up interaction on that post.”
She then went on to explain that by engaging with posts, although the comments may be negative, the influencer’s engagement remains high, and they will then continue to book high-paying jobs. Atwood also explained that the bad weather in Manchester, her home town, has made it very difficult for her to create content. Although influencers like Atwood should not be praised for doing the bare minimum by advocating for people to follow public health advice and government-imposed lockdowns, they are more deserving of a platform than some of their peers.
One ex-Love Island star that deserves huge commendations is Alex George, known as Dr Alex. Since the initial lockdown in March, George has been working on the front line in an A&E in London, and has recently began training to become a GP. As a social media influencer, he has seen first-hand the impact of the lockdown on mental health, especially in teenagers and young adults. The loss of his 19-year-old brother, Llŷr, to suicide in July, lit a fire inside of George, and inspired him to use his platform to advocate for the improvement of mental health services. Speaking on the death, George said:
“That was a real trigger that made me realise I wanted to push this and take it as far as I could.”
Following the loss, George spent the following number of months researching the extent of the issues faced by young people today, speaking to numerous experts, teachers, and students themselves. On January 1st of this year, George took to Twitter with an open letter to UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Due to his incredible advocacy for mental health, as well as his heroic work in the hospitals, George was recently appointed as the Youth Mental Health Ambassador.
Now, more than ever, influencers are hugely inspirational and aspirational to adolescents and young adults. As the spotlight shines so brightly on these social media influencers, we as followers are given the opportunity to see their true values, their respect for the rules, and the respect they have for the countless lives that have been lost since March. I hope that, as an online community, we begin to hold these influencers accountable for their action, and lessen their influence over us, especially in cases where they use their position of authority to their own advantage.