At first glance, the life of an influencer may be one to aspire to. They have money, notoriety, get into all the best parties, and get a lot of likes on their social media posts. However, there is another side of the coin to being an influencer, one that cannot be seen from the posts put out onto the internet. Everyone is always putting out into the world (via social media) the best version of themselves, and that is no different from famous people. But what exactly is an “influencer?” What makes an internet personality different from someone famous who also has a large internet presence?
An internet influencer has “created a personal brand on social media that has the potential to influence an audience” (Leban 225). An influencer is a type of microcelebrity, which is defined as “a state of being famous to a niche group of people and involves the curation of a persona that feels authentic to readers” (Edstrom 153). There are different types of influencers, but one of the most popular is the “high-net-worth (HNW) individuals… such as the billionaire Kylie Jenner” (Leban 225).
Being an influencer is not reserved for just anyone. In order to become one you need to have something that everyone e;se wants. For these HNW influencers, that happens to be money. The public is fascinated with the life of the rich, so much so they’ll do anything they can just to get a glimpse of their lives. That’s what makes the internet such an amazing place. For the first time in… well forever, people have immediate access to anyone they could possibly imagine, all it takes to talk to them is a simple @ or maybe a personal DM. Every part of an influencer’s life is on display for the consumer, which can end up harming the influencer much more than they may initially realize. You see, there’s a much darker side to the influencer lifestyle. This side of the lifestyle involves an inherent hypocrisy to how they live, a lack of laws in place to protect an influencer, or wanna-be influencer, from harm, as well as a heightened amount of scandals, which may or may not be accounted for because influencers have standards placed on them, which comes with the territory of having all eyes on you. This paper will work to show that darker side of influencer life, one that is hidden behind all the lavish social media posts and exclusive brand deals, in hopes to show that being an influencer as we know it today cannot continue without major improvements.
The entire way of life for an influencer is a moral hypocrisy. Being an influencer is entirely based on taste. As stated before, one cannot simply “become an influencer” if they want to. They need to have something everybody wants. An important piece of this puzzle to bring up is that “what brings high-status (e.g. what is preferred or valued) in one taste regime may differ from what brings high-status in another taste regime” (Leban 230). One thing that high net-worth influencers have that most people do not is access to a lot of money. While this may not mean much in one taste regime, it means everything when one is an influencer.
In today’s society, it has become a symbol of high-status to be ethical, or “woke.” Woke is a term described as “having or marked by an active awareness of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights” (Woke). Some influencers have figured out a way to appear as though they are woke, while not actually taking any steps to help further the world. Influencers end up with all this money, but do not use it in helpful ways. “As with moral hypocrisy, the end goal is the self-serving motive to appear ethical in the eyes of the public, but also to feel ‘better’ in the private sphere” (Leban 232).
While this doesn’t have to be the case for every influencer, it stands to reason that it is most of them. An influencer’s main goal is credibility. “Credibility is important for the Influencers both for the growth of their own media brands and for their effectiveness as commercial product brand endorsers” (Edstrom 154). The question becomes, how can an influencer lead such a lavish and expensive lifestyle while still being woke? The answer is: they cannot. Some influencers may choose to give back to a community, donating large sums of money to charities, however, these influencers are few and far between. An influencer may seem to be leading a woke cause, but if they’re not putting their money where their mouth is, they’re not really doing anything at all to help.
Something notable to point out is how fast influencers are becoming more and more mainstream every year. For example, when The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon had Charli D’Amelio as a guest, the YouTube clip with her in it garnered over 18 million views. To put that into perspective, the most recent Oscars only made half of that viewership. There is a big market for influencers out there, and as the years go on that market just seems to increase, With increasing markets means increasing money, which makes every influencer just that much more of a hypocrite. As well with an increase in money flowing in, it means more and more people will try and become an influencer, which can and has proven to be dangerous.
Fourteen-year-old AJ Mitchell moved in with Jake Paul at the Team 10 House in Los Angeles. He was trying to make it as a musician and gaining subscribers at a good pace when Paul found him on the internet. Jake Paul decided he needed him working under him in his Team 10 House. The Team 10 House describes itself as “The first ever social media label for the talent, by the talent. Team 10 is a unique incubator for aspiring social influencers. Whereas other business models take the talent and solely push them out in the hopes of marginalized profit and publicity, Team 10’s structure creates a home for talent to be developed, nurtured to perfection, and to quickly create content” (Team 10).
Although hesitant at first, AJ’s parents allowed him to move into the Team 10 House after extensive conversations with Jake Paul, his girlfriend at the time Alissa Violet, as well as Jake Paul’s parents. However, when AJ arrived with just a single suitcase to the Team 10 House, it was not at all what he was expecting. “For several weeks he didn’t have a bedroom, so he slept on the leather couch in the living room… [eventually] Mr. Mitchell was given a room to share with Alissa Violet, who was 19 at the time” (Lorenz). On top of this misconduct, AJ was also “never directly paid by Team 10” and had to rely on money his parents sent him to pay for food (Lorenz). Paul thought of his “payment” towards the people in his group was the fact that he would tag them in his videos. “If you were tagged in one of Jake’s YouTube videos, you could get 50,000 followers… Jake used this to manipulate everyone. If anyone didn’t do what Jake wanted, he’d tell everybody in the house not to tag them. Jake had a monopoly, and he decided who got famous” (Lorenz). This may seem gross and illegal to someone in the right headspace, however they would only be half right. “We have all these laws in place that have been around for a century to protect child performers, but they have not been extended to safeguard the health, welfare, and safety of children influencers. Because these young creators make money through a variety of revenue streams… they can be vulnerable to exploitation” (Lorenz). In fact, it’s been hotely contended that today’s child labor laws are “relatively limited in scope” (United States).
And this was happening to a young creator in a very well known house working under a very well known (albeit controversial) influencer, so imagine what’s happening to people trying to be influencers that we do not even know about. Especially with the rise and rapid growth of TikTok, children have become more and more involved in the creation process every year. “Child labor laws fail to keep pace with the rapidly evolving Internet entertainment ecosystem, and this issue requires specific action by the legislature and corporations behind popular social media platforms” (Riggio). Child stars have a reputation for ending up not in the best mental states when they grow older, and these children work under laws that protect them from living on the floor and not having food. Imagine what the next generation of influencers will look like once they’re grown after enduring these exploitative and unsafe practices. One would think, with so many eyes on these influencers, it might be hard to get away with scandals. But this is not the case.
While the scandals I am about to bring up in this paper have been brought to light, it is important to realize this has not been the norm. Influencers may have all eyes on them, yet their fame allows them to get away with more than one might initially think. Just recently, popular creator James Charles was outed as being a child predator. Charles started making beauty content in 2015 and rose to fame very quickly. By the time he was 17 years old, just about two years after the launch of his YouTube channel he was a spokesmodel for Covergirl. In the recent months, “more than 15 people have come forward to accuse him of inappropriate sexual advances and/or grooming, with allegations circulating primarily on Twitter and TikTok” (Vujic). But the public has heard rumors of Charle’s inappropriate relationship with boys ever since May of 2019, when Tati Westbrook attacked James by saying in a video “You tried to trick a straight man into thinking he’s gay, yet again, and somehow you’re the victim” (Vujic). So sketchy behavior has been going on around James Charles since at least 2019, but these allegations are only coming out now.
The scary thing is how long it took for brands to sever their ties with Charles. In a statement, Morphe, a cosmetic company that Charles has worked with since 2018, [and James Charles] tweeted out simultaneous statements announcing that they would “wind down,” although it’s not clear whether or when Morphe will stop selling their popular James Charles palette, which is currently still available. The announcement came after Morphe customers threatened to boycott the brand for continuing their collaboration with Charles” (Vujic). YouTube announced that it would temporarily stop all monetization on Charles’ videos. How long will each of these breaks last? It’s hard to say. Some influencers have faced similar amounts of backlash for problematic behavior in the past, but the brand deals all eventually came back.
Influencers like Jeffree Starr have had scandals in the past, although not seemingly as severe as Charles’, they all seem to go the same way. What truly gives me pause is the way that Morphe and Charles put out a statement together, like it was both of their decisions to stop putting out James Charles’ products. Even just looking back one paragraph, we know that Jake Paul was responsible for not feeding, paying, or giving a room to a minor who he was supposed to be helping. But has Paul faced any repercussions for his actions? Quite the contrary, as his most recent boxing match just went down as one of the all-time pay-per-view boxing matches of all time.
As seen in this paper, the life of an influencer can seem to be one of the best lives to lead. However, the lifestyle itself is a moral hypocrisy, it leaves children in a dangerous position without labor laws, and it comes with a heightened amount of criticism, but criticism that does not seem to be taken too seriously by what is most important to an influencer’s life- brands and money. The influencer lifestyle has quite a dark underbelly that has yet to be exposed to the general population. “If there’s not some entity taking responsibility as an employer, then we’re going to see [all kinds of] exploitative and unsafe practices” (Lorenz). Influencer life is a lot like the Wild West right now, and somehow accountability must be taken to ensure better practices in the future. What that will look like, who knows, but until the public understands the full scope of these problems, and the lifestyle is hit where it hurts the most, in its wallet, then we will continue to see these unsafe practices upheld.
Edström, Maria, Andrew T. Kenyon, Eva-Maria Svensson (eds.). Blurring the Lines Market Driven and Democracy-Driven Freedom of Expression. Nordicom, 2016.
Leban, Marina, et al. “Constructing Personas: How High‐Net‐Worth Social Media Influencers Reconcile Ethicality and Living a Luxury Lifestyle.” Journal of Business Ethics 169: 225–239 (2021).
Lorenz, Taylor. “Jake Paul Promised Them Fame. Was It Worth the Price?” The New York Times, 22 Apr. 2021.
Riggio, Amanda G. “The Small-Er Screen: YouTube Vlogging and the Unequipped Child
Entertainment Labor Laws.” Seattle University Law Review, 2021. EBSCOhost,
Team 10, 2015, www.team10official.com/.
United States. Bureau of Labor Standards. Child Labor Laws. [Washington, 1968. EBSCOhost,
Vujic, Katja. “A Guide to the Many, Many Scandals of James Charles.” The Cut, The Cut, 20