Instagram influencer privilege -While it’s off-putting enough that the youth influencer space today is an elite club that rides on big brand promotions and advert collaborations parading as “content,” what becomes a primary point of contention is the skewed narrative its participants are pushing. From make-up to wellness, influencers are standing guard at every post of social relevance, with loud and proud promises of inclusivity and sensitivity.
But more so than the inequality and injustice they claim to guard out, are Instagram influencers really just guarding privilege in? Gatekeeping their cosy bubble insulated from the lower, tougher realities of life? How much of their ‘woke’ commentary is selective or how much is genuine? What are the potential dangers to the scope of misinformation their content could tag along with? Even if those risks are realised, is there even a way anymore to plug the flood of new content that surfaces everyday?
How Instagram Influencer Privilege Is Shaping A Dangerous Narrative Nobody Needs
The staggering number of self-proclaimed motivational speakers, mental health experts, fact-checkers and medical advisors online is a proof that nothing is off-limits for certain influencers.
This past week, the internet has found two Instagram influencers contesting for the top seat of who’s more blind to their privilege: Nimisha Vermaa and Ranveer Allahbadia.
Vermaa, who describes herself as a “certified metaphysical anatomy practitioner who is trained to help you identify the psycho-somatic impact of your emotions,” has managed to raise eyebrows, not for her uncommon profession but the content she served under it recently.
In a now-deleted reel posted to her profile, Verma (actually) suggested that the state of being ‘underprivileged was only a construct. “How do you get to decide that someone is underprivileged? You have been programmed to believe that sources are limited and the people who have less of it are underprivileged,” she said in a manner that, to many, came across as nothing short of a self-righteous justification of privilege.
She is also being called out for a rather near-sighted reply of hers that stated, “If you really wanted it, you would make it happen,” in response to a user inquiring about her “expensive” sessions.
— k (@krownnist) March 30, 2021
Meanwhile, Allahbadia, who goes famously by BeerBiceps on his social media platforms, is being pulled up for a peculiarly political “apolitical” stand he took on Twitter recently. Many users did not take well to his application of an idealistic motivational tone to real-time systemic problems plaguing politics, class structure and social hierarchy. “Don’t complain unless you can do something about it,” he proclaimed.
Translation: I'm privileged and a lot richer than a large population of this country.I don't care about politics bc it doesn't affect me but I won't admit it because how will I pack my pockets if I do?My 1 job is to tell people they're not working hard enough through insta quotes
— k (@flengiddich) April 12, 2021
This isn’t the first instance that has sparked a conversation about the urgent concerns surrounding the phenomenon of Instagram influencing.
It was brought up when influencer Santoshi Shetty, without medical practice, sought to offer mental health therapy and ‘positive vibes’ at a hefty Rs 1500 per session last year. CarryMinati and Flying Beast, who enjoy massive fan followings, have faced wrath in the past for casually spewing homophobia or sexism. Recently, we saw how fashion influencers, including Komal Pandey, were criticised for promoting what netizens deemed unreal beauty standards through styles not accessible to all body sizes.
Audience annoyance cannot be a factor in limiting the flow of information online. If one doesn’t like it, there’s always the option of not watching it. But what does one do when that information runs the risk of turning to misinformation or false information or simply just incomplete information?
my problem with influencers like komal pandey isn't even with the elitism or inaccessible fashion, it's the constant brand they sell of being easy, relatable comfortable and what not, comfortable and relatable to whom exactly? able skinny bodied women with eurocentric features?
— partime girlboss fulltime hater (@pussyriotttt) March 29, 2021
Can Sensitive Issues Like Mental Health Be Passed Off As ‘Influencer’ Content?
The problem isn’t so much as these influencers taking on extracurricular interests in dishing out motivational advice alongside their primary fashion or makeup or gaming content. Especially since their millions of fans do enjoy and seem to positively take something away from it. And there is no doubt a whole crop of people acting towards real-time impact on Instagram – such as these fab over 50 women, men in makeup and queer activists.
The issue arises when topics of mental health, body image, gender discourse, and law – all of which require nuanced representation and conversation – are painted over by a make-up brush and handed out to young, impressionable Instagrammers.
Yes, these are all significant issues impacting real women, real communities and demand equal space alongside social media entertainment. But there are authorised professionals – like Divija Bhasin or Dr Karthika Krishnamoorthy or these Dalit women voices – who are well available online and represent causes or lived experiences they are qualified to talk about.
Because can these subjects afford callous, casual treatment like the one currently going around in young influencer circles? Can we let someone like Vermaa or Allahbadia take over those conversations in the absence of due knowledge and under the garb of opinion? Should sensitive issues be contorted into playthings for Instagram influencer privilege? Must audiences give in to their favourite influencers’ armchair activism, no matter how ‘prettily’ they package it?
Views expressed are the author’s own.
Image Credit: Ranveer Allahbadia, Instagram + Nimisha Vermaa, Instagram