The Dark Side of Influencer Culture

A Tale of Abuse and Accountability

In August this year, a shocking incident unfolded in the American state of Utah. A malnourished 12-year-old boy, bearing deep lacerations, climbed out of a window and ran to a neighbor for help. He claimed he and his sister were being held captive. The police were called, and the siblings were taken to the hospital. Shortly after, two women were arrested: Ruby Franke, the mother of the captive children, and her former business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt.

The Unlikely Culprits

Ironically, Ruby Franke was a parenting influencer with a YouTube channel boasting millions of followers. Her partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, was a counselor and life coach. It was in Hildebrandt’s house that the children were held, the boy having been tied up with ropes, hence the lacerations. Both women have remained in jail since their arrest, each charged with six felony counts for aggravated child abuse.

Yesterday, Franke pleaded guilty to abusing and starving two of her children. She likely faces a prison sentence, and four of her six children are now in state custody. Her YouTube channel has been deactivated.

The Dark Side of Influencer Culture

The Wild West of Influencing

This raises the question: how did someone who preaches about parenting abuse her own children? The answer lies in the world of influencing, which is akin to the Wild Wild West. Laws are inadequate, regulatory oversight is lacking, and disorder prevails. Anyone with a mobile phone and internet access can become an influencer. Once they do, money comes easily and frequently.

This phenomenon is part of the ‘Creator Economy,’ powered by millions of people building and monetizing their own brand. They sell products, advice, inspiration, attention, and even fun to their followers. This industry is projected to reach $480 billion by 2027. Of some 2,000 global brands, 80% use influencer marketing, and 54% of youngsters say they would become influencers if they could.

The Loopholes and Dangers

However, this seemingly euphoric world is not without its loopholes. Influencers peddle everything from Botox fillers to crypto wise cracks, but many don’t believe what they say. They’re simply promoting brands for money. Others lack the right credentials to shell out advice. Some even risk their lives for views. In this influencer economy, anything goes.

But who is holding them accountable? This year, America charged influencers for illegally promoting crypto. Australia investigated influencers over false ads. Italy sued a fashion influencer for misleading content. India released guidelines to curb finance and health influencers. France became the first country to legally define what an influencer is. The action exists, but examples are few and far between.

The Way Forward

So, what can we do about it? Until more action comes, do your part. Hold your influencers accountable. Double-check their pearls of wisdom. Establish your own guard rails and hold your influencers to higher standards. Influencing is not going anywhere, so maybe it’s time we make it a two-way street.

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