On Influencers

I hate the word “influencers” especially in the context of social media influencers.

If you read my blog, I very rarely vent about things. After all, I would rather stay positive and focus on the good things. When I say good, I don’t mean just the pleasant, conflict-free, trigger-warning-free stuff, like crazy winter storm photos, going to the mountains, but whatever is true, noble, and edifying. Thus, if you see me post anything negative, it’s because the topic is heavy and worth processing aloud – even if my followers are few and part of the metaphorical choir.

Now, to some extent, we are all influencers. Everyone in someone is an influence to someone and being influenced by someone else at the same time. I look to mentors and role models just as I seek to be a positive role model to someone else. Some of these role models are famous historical figures like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, St. Augustine… the list goes on. Others are very much alive and obscure – men and women who may never be famous but changed your life for the better. We all know and love people like that.

Where did influence go wrong? My theory: online reviews. That’s not the only thing but it is crucial. For me, I don’t trust online reviews. It has nothing to do with the reviewers themselves, like Jim2000 from Whittier, or MakaylaLuv311 from San Diego. Rather, it is the entire system has gone off the rails and we don’t realize it.

Example: this review went viral in ~2014 after a woman from China posted a negative review about one of the top sushi chefs Jiro: they wanted their sushi cooked.

But as the story goes, this Chinese woman did apologize to Jiro and his staff while deleting her original post. That was almost ten years ago, people moved on to focus on other matters like the 2016 US presidential election, the Covid-19 global pandemic, and we learned to accept that there will always be an ignorant person on the Internet posting things they know nothing about. Why? They want to be an influencer.

Example 2: numbers are deceiving. This is the matter of trust metrics giving us the right data with the wrong conclusion. Trust metrics in a simplistic term is the value we assign to evaluate how much we will rely on that person or piece information. Case in point: a random stranger once pulled to me at a gas station and asked if I wanted to buy some brand new plasma TVs. I said no. Why? Trust is -10000000. Who knows if the goods were stolen? Who knows if there is even a TV in the box?

When it comes to trust, how much we know a person is directly proportional to the level of trust.

That random stranger who offered plasma TVs? -100000000. My coworkers: 1000. My family and closest friends: 5,000,000.

Apply this to social media influencers. When you are on a social media site, you are trusting that a random stranger is telling you that something is trending and you should buy it. But wait, you say, it’s one of my favorite celebrities or _________ (fill in the blank famous person)! What if they already have 3,000 followers?

No, really think about this. Are you friends with that person? Probably not. I would argue that unless you are actual friends with that person, your trust metric should be much, much lower.

Is the majority always correct? More often than not, the majority is actually wrong. Just look at humanity’s history in the last 100 years. Having 3,000 followers does not make a person automatically right or have the weight. It just means that 3000 people agree with what he or she says. Whether it is true or not, that’s a different story.

Where do we go from here? Sites like Yelp, Google, and YouTube are here to stay. There will always be people who want to become influencers with their favorite hashtags. There will always be a JulieK9Luver or Mariah762 who post about their favorite hipster clothing store or try to slam a chain as an evil corporation.

My advice: Form your own opinions. Avoid GroupThink. I heard those pieces of advice when I was 9 years old. They were true then and I can’t believe I have to say them again in 2022.

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