4.4 When Influence Turns to Harm

Some people trust influencers as much as they trust their friends (Lou & Yuan, 2019). This is partially due to confirmation bias which leads people to like content that already fits with what they already believe (Buchanan, 2020b) and ties in with the concept of believing something that a person’s social community supports. An influencer might impact a person’s decision to purchase a certain shirt or travel to a certain place, no big deal. However, things begin to get dangerous when influencers claim to be experts but aren’t. One popular influencer trend is exercise and nutrition. Many people follow the advice of un- or under-educated influencers for things that can seriously impact health and well-being. Vanderburg (2019) pointed out that the most cited level of certification for Canadian fitness and diet influencers is from the NFLCA (the National Fitness Leadership Association of Canada). This is a fitness leadership credential, someone with it is qualified to lead fitness classes, they are not qualified to provide health and diet advice, but many do. Following non-professional advice in these areas can lead to “injury, poor nutrition, ill health, and physical and psychological issues” (Vanderberg, 2019).

Another example of a disinformation campaign that attempted to use social media influencers to refute science focuses on COVID-19. In a news article from May 2021, social media influencers reported that they were offered financial incentive to falsely talk about the Pfizer and the Astra-Zeneca vaccines by an organization unwilling to share their information or purpose (Leicester, 2021). Although the influencers featured in this article did not accept the incentive to post about vaccines, it is very likely that there are influencers who did–meaning this false information has likely been spread in some virtual environments or echo chambers. If influencers intentionally share disinformation, it can spread quickly.


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Disinformation: Dealing with the Disaster Copyright © 2023 by Saskatchewan Polytechnic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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