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Paper 2 Final

Kominsky 1
Hugh Kominsky
Prof. Meica Magnani
6 December 2022
A Criticism of Influencers
With the emergence of social media, the ability to connect with others has never been
easier. Unlike prior generations, anyone tech-savvy and driven can now garner gargantuan
followings rivaling that of traditional media sources. People with large followings who use their
platform to influence their followers are appropriately called “influencers.” How they influence
their followers ranges from advertising products, to even altering their social and political
attitudes. In general, influencers are authentic individuals, as opposed to faceless
committee-approved corporations. As a result, their followers tend to be more likely to trust
whatever message they espouse. To illustrate, an influencer advertising a product is often seen as
similar to a friend’s recommendation by their followers. An asymmetry arises because of this
phenomenon, as corporate advertising is not seen in such a positive light. Because of this,
influencers can hold a significantly greater amount of influence over their audience than a
corporation could.
While it is true that any individual can become an influencer overnight, is it truly cause for
concern? What is morally wrong about a person sharing their views with their followers? What is
wrong with this phenomenon is illustrated even in these questions. An influencer should not be
considered just the average person with an audience. They can wield just as much if not more
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influence than even powerful corporations. However, due to the perception of influencers being
normal people, they can circumvent the harsh regulations and accountability employed on other
sources of influence. As a result, because influencers create parasocial relationships with their
fans, have the freedom to share hateful rhetoric with their followers, and turn their fanbase into
echo chambers, I will be criticizing their existence and unwieldy power in the social media age.
First, I will discuss the importance of parasocial relationships and why they are so
important when discussing the unprecedented level of influence an influencer can have. After
this, I will segway into a discussion of the negatives that come arise with modern influencers. In
particular, I will elaborate on the point that influencers can use their influence over their
followers to not just spread hateful rhetoric, but also use their fanbase to amplify the same
message further. I will then explain that a part of what makes this phenomenon possible is that
influencers can make their fanbases effectively serve as echo chambers by purposely
delegitimizing opposing viewpoints to their own. Within these points against influencers, I will
also charitably outline counterarguments in support of influencers.
Parasocial Relationships:
The true essence of what makes influencers so particularly potent in their ability to
influence others is the inherent creation of a parasocial relationship between influencers and their
follower base. Parasocial relationships are defined as “a kind of psychological relationship
experienced by members of an audience in their mediated encounters with certain performers in
the mass media…. Regular viewers come to feel… personalities almost as friends. Parasocial
relationships psychologically resemble those of face-to-face interaction but they are of course
mediated and one-sided” (Horton and Wohl 1). To connect the definition to modern influencers -
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followers treat influencers like a friend, despite the influencer themselves never reciprocating. As
a result, influencers yield a massive amount of weight on their follower’s thoughts and actions.
To illustrate, if your friend recommended you try a new menu offering at McDonald’s, you are
more likely to try it than if you saw a billboard ad for the same deal. Of course, influencers aren’t
the friends of their followers, but they do hold a similar level of influence, making them
extremely persuasive - especially when compared to traditional forms of influence like
advertisements. While this kind of influence may be tame in certain situations, certain cases can
arise where parasocial relationships can be actively detrimental to not just the one involved, but
also others as well. In particular, these scenarios are largely caused when an influencer uses their
platform to spread some kind of hateful message.
Unfavorable Influence:
Unfortunately, one downside of influencer culture is that people with hateful, racist views
can use their platform to spread their discriminatory rhetoric. As more and more of our public
sphere moves to the digital realm, the “enhanced opportunities to engage in the public discussion
also enable people to impose costs on those who bear messages they don’t like through these
forms of online distraction and harassment” (Cohen and Fung 25). One of the largest drawbacks
of online discussions is the ability for targetted discrimination and harassment. In particular, the
most potent form of modern harassment is done by overwhelming discussion purely through
strength in numbers. What allows this to occur is the movement of the dissemination of
information from a one-to-many model, to a many-to-many model. The one-to-many model can
be thought of as a traditional form of news broadcasting, where one centralized authority
distributes information to others. However, social media has allowed for a many-to-many model
- one where anyone can contribute to the discussion of information. One drawback of this
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though, is that there are no regulations against what any individual contributes - opening the door
to people purposely spreading hateful information, or fake news. The cause of these drawbacks is
the ability of large groups of people to come together with a sense of anonymity online. When
these groups form, they can target harassment or share hateful rhetoric that makes the digital
sphere an overall worse place to be a part of - especially if you are the target of said
discrimination. Of course, this works in tandem with influencers; through the merit of the
parasocial relationships cultivated by influencers, they can use their fanbases to cause targeted
discrimination and harassment. However, aside from the existence of parasocial relationships,
what other dynamics exist that would allow such a phenomenon to occur? One of the largest
reasons why influencers can cause their followers to not just believe, but also spread their
worldview is because they cultivate a fanbase that can serve as an echo chamber in and of itself.
Echo Chambers:
It is important to make the distinction between epistemic bubbles and echo chambers, as
echo chambers are different in the fact that they actively suppress opposing arguments while
epistemic bubbles occur when a group “lacks exposure to relevant information and arguments.”
Because fanbases revolve around an influencer, this influencer can serve as the suppressing force
against dissent. Influencers tend to cultivate fan bases that share interests and world views, and
as a result, fan bases can be insular enough that they become echo chambers or forums where
“members have been brought to systematically distrust all outside sources.” For example on
YouTube users can ban comments with certain words or phrases, and influencers can control
narratives by selectively choosing what arguments they respond to and how. These influencer
echo chambers can then be used to rapidly spread fake, often hateful information that agrees with
the views of the influencer and is consumed by their followers. Calling back to my previous
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point on parasocial relationships, the followers who will consume this media are predisposed to
accept and even spread the fake information to others. To illustrate, far-right influencers such as
Alex Jones can disseminate hateful, false information to his fanbase. From here, his followers
will believe and then begin to further spread his message online in other forums or to people they
know. Such a process is particularly concerning because it allows for influencers to have an
unduly large amount of influence on many people incredibly easily.
Nonetheless, it is arguable that influencers don’t have enough influence to suddenly make
their followers share their views. The most poignant example right now would be the case of
Kanye West. Despite having a massive, loyal fanbase, his recent antisemitic remarks have
thankfully been largely denounced by his fans. However, it is important to note that this may also
be due to the large discrepancy between the beliefs of his fans and himself. If Kanye had a
significantly more conservative fanbase, it could be argued that his antisemitic remarks would
have been better received. Additionally, the points that I mentioned earlier are relevant to
Kanye’s recent outbreak. For example, he began to try and make his fanbase an echo chamber by
only sharing certain viewpoints and denouncing others. By doing this, for a moment in time,
Kanye was able to have some of his fans with similar views to his combat people with dissenting
opinions to cleanse these opinions from his fanbase.
In this paper, I criticized the rise of modern influencers and influencer culture for
numerous reasons. First, I elaborated on the concept of parasocial relationships and how
influencers cultivate them. Then I expanded upon this by explaining that influencers can use the
parasocial relationships they have with their fans to disseminate hateful rhetoric, create echo
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chambers, and influence the views of their fans. However, I did also charitably consider rebuttals
to these points, namely that influencers may not have as strong of an influence on their fans to
result in strong changes to their core beliefs.
Works Cited
Cohen, Joshua, and Archon Fung. "Democracy and the Digital Public Sphere."
MIT Press, northeastern.instructure.com/courses/121545/
Nguyen, C. Thi. "Echo Chambers and Epistemic Bubbles." Cambridge University
Press, northeastern.instructure.com/courses/121545/files/
"parasocial interaction." Oxford Reference. . . Date of access 2 Dec. 2022,