A eulogy for the digital influencer

Art by Ina Jacobe

The digital influencer is gone. Good riddance.

What used to be the most popular occupation of the late 21st century has turned into a borderline obsolete profession. The last few years may have seen the power of an influencer’s powerful endorsement via Instagram tags, but 2017 seems to have seen the last of that. Many of us have begun to realize that we want more than just influence. We want allies.

In the past few weeks, public attention became focused on the blogger/influencer’s responsibilities towards their audience — perhaps inspired by the Senate hearings on the spread of fake news. Among the people interviewed by the Senate, it was PCOO assistant secretary Mocha Uson and Thinking Pinoy blogger RJ Nieto who claimed that bloggers were entitled to their opinions without accountability. It then made people question where the lines were drawn: did bloggers truly have a responsibility to their audience, or are they merely responsible for their own content?

 

Many of us have begun to realize that we want more than just influence. We want allies.

 

Just recently, a number of local digital influencers received flak from Twitter users who questioned their opinions (or lack thereof) on recent public matters. One was criticized for showing sympathy towards the Las Vegas shooting incident, but chose to be quiet about the spate of killings under the Duterte presidency. Another stated that it wasn’t his job to react to everything—and people should just stop asking bloggers for their opinions of social issues.

If you think about it, their neutrality made sense. To profit from digital influencer-izing (is this a term? Let’s make it a term.), one needed to make their public persona as benign as possible. That made substantial brand partnerships more attainable, because big brands with a lot to lose didn’t want to be affiliated with any loose cannons. To prove themselves as the tightest fucking cannons out there, many successful influencers chose to avoid alienating their following by choosing no side at all.  It may seem ruthless, but it was also practical. They make a living out of being themselves, after all.

 

The influencer’s main occupation — that is, to act as tastemakers — has become secondary to what many feel they need to become. People don’t want to listen to influencers anymore; they want to engage with thought leaders.

 

But what stigmatizes the blogging profession now is its refusal to understand the public pulse. Many people today remain just as amorous towards their social media idols, but also expect them to use their clout to add value to the communal conversation. The influencer’s main occupation — that is, to act as tastemakers — has become secondary to what many feel they need to become. People don’t want to listen to influencers anymore; they want to engage with thought leaders. Our societies have become so politicized that it is almost tone-deaf to portray lifestyle blogging as removed from reality. To accept reality requires a recognition that we can no longer afford to remain apolitical.

In an era where public image is arguably the greatest currency out there, it is admittedly hard to choose sides. But there are many influencers today who have used their platform to speak up about issues that people actually want to talk about — from the condemnation of state-sponsored murder to the importance of mental health awareness. It may not have always been the popular choice to speak up, but these people knew that it was a necessary one. As oppression grows strong in the face of neutrality in these dark days, public figures are now expected to side with what is fair and what is right. To deliberately stay in the middle of the road in pursuit of misplaced fairness? Well, Rihanna said it best when she sub-tweeted Ciara, “Good luck with bookin that stage u speak of.”

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