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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

Influencer Culture Needs To End

It’s essential to recognize the harmful effects of influencer culture, including its role in perpetuating consumerism and generating excessive waste.
Here is an array of beauty products laid out on the table, ready to be “reviewed” by an influencer. (Photo Credit: Amy Shamblen / Unsplash)

Summer Fridays, Drunk Elephant, The Ordinary. Have you ever heard of these brands? If you’ve ever used TikTok, you more than likely have.

Tiktok has evolved as a powerful influencer platform with over 1 billion monthly users engaged with a range of content creators. Yet with the appeal of enthralling new products and viral trends, there is a dire need to address the impact of TikTok influencers, particularly in terms of product endorsements and reviews.

Beauty influencers have existed since the start of social media, but over the past few years, the amount has rapidly increased. 

However, the rise of influencers like Alix Earle  –a 23 year old beauty guru with 6 million followers – marks a significant shift in the dynamics of social media. Previously relegated to their own little niche communities, these internet personalities now boast followings numbering in the millions.

Among their followers are masses of impressionable young children, ardently following their every recommendation with a cult-like devotion. This vehement dedication highlights the immense power that influencers hold, particularly over the most impressionable part of society. As children and preteens navigate their developmental years, they often turn to these influencers as role models, imitating their behaviors, preferences, and lifestyles without fully comprehending the implications. This exemplifies the significant responsibility influencers carry in shaping not only consumer trends, but also the values and attitudes of future generations.

Dedicated followers swarm an influencer like bees, ready to hop on the next trend. (Photo Credit: Inja Pavlic / Unsplash)

The growing number of TikTok influencers reflects the platform’s rapid expansion and user-friendly layout, which allows users to reach audiences and gain influence. Unfortunately, this does not come without drawbacks. Sponsorships and affiliate marketing partnerships frequently push influencers to prioritize profit over their audience’s true needs, resulting in the promotion of items with little true value. 

In today’s digital age, social media influencers wield significant power in influencing trends, consumer behavior, and societal perceptions. Amidst curated content lies a significant issue — overconsumption. To find out more about this matter, I interviewed Elaina Berman, a former TikTok influencer, to get insight and explore solutions to mitigate overconsumption’s impact on social media platforms.

Berman’s journey into the influencer world began with relatable content showcasing snippets of her daily life as a teen in New York City. However, with growing followers came the pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle and endorse products aligned with her online persona.

During her years as an influencer, her mailbox overflowed with gifts from sponsors, ranging from clothing and accessories (Shein, Romwe, Shekou) to skincare (Kidskin, Drunk Elephant, Mario Badescu, Higher Education Skincare), makeup (Babe Lash, Winky Lux, Lano Lips), snacks, and even handmade goods from small businesses. During her two-year partnership with popular fast fashion brand Shein, Berman received monthly shipments of five to ten items of her choice.

It’s important to note that Berman quit her account in early 2022, while the upsurge of influencer culture began later that year. This may explain Berman’s integrity compared to current influencers as this was a mere hobby for her while influencing has now transformed into a full-time profession. Berman explains that she chose to leave social media as she no longer found enjoyment once the fun turned into work.

With the increasing monetization of social media platforms, influencers face exacerbated pressure to maintain profitable partnerships and secure their livelihoods. This commercialization has led to a decline in reliability, as influencers tend to prioritize promotional content over true recommendations to sustain their careers in an increasingly competitive industry. 

While she never felt obligated to lie about a product, she acknowledges the temptation to exaggerate their qualities, especially with sponsored gifts. Unlike some influencers, Berman was fortunate to have the integrity to promote products authentically, even with sponsorships. 

As controversies surrounding influencers’ credibility persist, recent events such as Mikayla Nogueira’s review of L’Oréal Telescopic Lift mascara on TikTok highlight the scrutiny that influencers are now facing. In the video, Nogueira applied the mascara while expressing amazement at its effects, claiming it made her lashes appear like false eyelashes. Nogueira’s 14 million followers on TikTok make her significant influence undeniable. However, her endorsement of the mascara has caused debate among viewers who questioned the legitimacy of her demonstration, as many noticed that she applied false eyelashes and tried to pass it off as the effects of the mascara. Such a simple act of deceit raises the question of how many other influencers are also lying about products’ abilities. Who can you really trust for an honest review anymore?

One viewer commented, “I’m so disappointed to see this. I have no doubts that this mascara is great, but you can clearly see the falsies here.” 

The controversy even caught the attention of renowned makeup artist Jeffree Star, who expressed his dismay about the changing values of the industry, stating, “A lot of foundations and mascaras and certain things I hear may be fraudulent. So if y’all want an unbiased [opinion] that’s been reviewing makeup for 10 years, that has never accepted a coin from one brand to ever say a product is ‘amazing’ – then stay…tuned.” Star’s response emphasizes the concerns surrounding transparency in the industry as it continues to evolve, noting that less and less influencers care about anything aside from the money. 

Furthermore, the lack of transparency and accountability in influencer marketing worsens the problem. Misleading reviews and false advertising destroy faith in influencers as legitimate sources of information, maintaining an endless loop of disinformation and consumer abuse. This culture of dishonesty not only harms consumer welfare, but it also has economic and psychological consequences. 

Even after this whole scandal, Nogueira still flaunts a massive fanbase of 14.6 million followers on TikTok. Aside from the backlash, she faced no repercussions and brands continued to partner with her. It seems that many people have even forgotten about or moved past the situation, allowing these influencers to get away with blatant false advertisements. 

Berman offered her own perspective pertaining to the discourse around Mikayla Nogueira and Jeffree Star, saying, “I sometimes felt pressured to promote products, particularly when overwhelmed with massive amounts of them. But even then I was wary of filling my account with solely promotional content.”

For Berman, the main focus was having fun and creating entertaining, informative content rather than making money. She said, “A lot of the skincare and beauty items I was sent seemed unnecessary. There was a point where I had boxes and boxes full of beauty items and I just felt like nobody should own this much beauty product. It seemed useless to me, and the fact that there were so many different companies and brands all producing essentially the same things felt incredibly wasteful and kind of pointless.” 

Scrolling through TikTok nowadays, it seems like every other video is a relentless parade of product promotions. Take, for instance, the latest craze over Summer Fridays lip balms, each one priced at a hefty $24, with influencers urging viewers to collect them all. Despite the price, thousands of teenage girls across the country are now flexing their massive collections.  Not to mention, they only typically last up to three weeks and some even claim they dry out your lips. After three weeks you’re all out and now your lips are dry, what do you do? Don’t be silly. You go get some more and contribute to the endless cycle of consumer culture, of course!

But wait, there’s more.. you also apparently need the Rhode peptide lip treatment for another $16, and let’s not forget about the essential $18 Laneige lip glowy balm! Because clearly, your lips simply cannot survive without this holy trinity of overpriced lip products. It’s consumerism at its finest.

While influencers flaunt their sponsored lip balms and serums, the average person is left wondering how many organs they need to sell to afford such luxuries. 

Preteens have also fallen victim to the trap of consumerism. Many tap into their parents’ bank accounts faster than you can say ‘influencer discount code.’ Who needs to save for college when you can have plump, hydrated lips, right? It’s a vicious cycle of consumerism where FOMO reigns supreme and the only winners are the brands.

Amidst the pressure to keep up with consumer trends fueled by influencers and social media, many individuals — including impressionable youth — find themselves trapped in a cycle of comparison and consumption. Influencers offer a sense of belonging for those who purchase the products while simultaneously fueling feelings of inadequacy and the fear of missing out for those who don’t. This leads to impulsive spending habits, where financial literacy takes a secondary role to the allure of the latest must-have product. 

This relentless pursuit of material possessions not only strains bank accounts but also perpetuates a culture of excess and waste. It poses the question: is the temporary satisfaction of a new purchase truly worth the long-term financial and psychological toll? 

TikTok Shop, a new feature within the app — that allows users to discover and purchase products directly from the platform — has played a significant role in exacerbating this trend. Unlike traditional influencer marketing, TikTok Shop is open to all users, enabling even ordinary civilians to promote products directly to their followers. Now, it’s not just influencers, but also everyday users, who are constantly promoting products. With the appeal of earning extra income, many users eagerly participate, flooding the platform with promotions, making it difficult to scroll more than three videos without encountering an advertisement. 

What sets TikTok Shop apart is not just its accessibility but also the types of products being promoted. Many of these products are often cheaply made and lacking in durability. This influx of low-quality products further aggravates the issue as users promote products without fully processing the negative impact. According to gcimagazine.com, 89% of users bought cosmetic products after browsing on TikTok Shop! The marketing success is undeniable.

But how is TikTok Shop able to sell these products at such low prices? The truth is they are using cheap and inhumane labor, exploiting workers in China in order to get the most affordable prices. This explains the low quality of the products but people just don’t seem to care as long as they’re inexpensive. In fact, some people have even spoken up about TikTok Shop’s use of inhumane labor but users shrugged it off as they felt it didn’t affect them. People are losing their humanity just so they can get the best deals. This has to be stopped.

With the sudden propagation of low-quality products flooding TikTok, there is a growing demand for a counter-movement: deinfluencing. Deinfluencing, a term gaining traction in response to the pervasive influence of social media, advocates for a more unfavorable approach to consumerism. It urges individuals to carefully research product recommendations and resist the temptation of consumerist trends perpetuated by influencers and platforms like TikTok Shop. 

According to Berman, the prevalence of brand deals accepted by creators and influencers saturates feeds with unnecessary products, creating a cycle driven by the relentless promotion of items deemed ‘viral.’ She argues that such content not only fails to address genuine needs but also exacerbates the problem by convincing viewers they need products solely because they’ve been endorsed by influencers.

 The ramifications of overconsumption extend beyond individual behaviors, shaping societal norms and environmental sustainability. As influencers promote a culture of overconsumption, societal values shift towards materialism and instant gratification. This shift not only strains personal finances but also contributes to environmental degradation through increased waste production and resource depletion.

In order to embrace deinfluencing and counteract the influence of consumerist trends, individuals should adopt a more mindful approach to consumption. This involves critically assessing product recommendations and resisting the pressure to blindly follow trends promoted by influencers. Instead, individuals can prioritize purchases based on genuine needs and values, rather than succumbing to the allure of viral trends. If we consciously curate our consumption habits and seek out products that we truly like, we can reclaim control over our purchasing decisions and contribute to a more sustainable and mindful consumer culture.

Additionally, de-influencing strategies must include holding influencers responsible for their behavior, as well as advocating for more transparency and integrity in influencer marketing. To address these complex issues, collective action is crucial. Governments, consumers, influencers, and social media platforms must collaborate to establish guidelines and enforce transparency standards within the influencer industry. This will allow us to mitigate the harmful effects of overconsumption and create a more responsible online environment.

In addition to regulatory measures and initiatives, cultivating a culture of conscious consumerism requires collaboration across different areas. Businesses must prioritize sustainability and ethical production practices, offering consumers transparent information about product origins and environmental impact. Likewise, influencers have a responsibility to use their platforms to advocate for sustainable lifestyles and promote brands committed to ethical practices.

As society attempts to change influencer culture and its impact on consumer behavior, the development of critical thinking skills becomes crucial. Education systems and online literacy programs should integrate lessons that teach people, especially the youth, how to discern between authentic content and promotional material. By empowering individuals with the tools to evaluate information critically, we equip them to make informed decisions and resist overconsumption.

Ultimately, addressing the challenges posed by influencer culture requires a complex approach that encompasses education, community engagement, regulatory measures, and industry accountability. If we are able to utilize these collective efforts, we can create a culture of conscious consumption.

This relentless pursuit of material possessions not only strains bank accounts but also perpetuates a culture of excess and waste. It poses the question: is the temporary satisfaction of a new purchase truly worth the long-term financial and psychological toll? 

About the Contributor
Chaiya Milowic, Staff Reporter
Chaiya Milowic is an Editorial Editor for ‘The Science Survey.' She enjoys debates and sharing and listening to others’ opinions. Although she finds objective writing interesting, she has always been drawn to the art of subjectivity and the room it leaves for interpretation and creativity. Writing has opened her eyes to new perspectives and beliefs. She has been working with cameras for years outside of school and finds journalistic photography to be a crucial element in articles. She finds it most appealing that a picture can seemingly tell a thousand words when taking journalistic photography. In Chaiya’s free time, she enjoys playing basketball, spending time with family, and creating new things whether they are paintings, poem, stories, or even a makeup look. In the future, she plans on pursuing a career in psychology, hoping to eventually earn her PhD and become a clinical psychologist. As writing has always been her main interest since childhood, she intends to continue writing and produce articles on her psychological findings in the future.