When the floods hit Auckland in January, social media influencers who continued to post as usual faced the full wrath of Aucklanders. Some called them out of touch and insensitive, and the criticisms may have been justified. Many Aucklanders’ livelihoods were destroyed at the hands of the floods, and for them to see someone on Instagram promoting luxury perfumes, hair care or sunglasses must have been tormenting.
I follow many influencers on Instagram. Some of them are my friends. Before meeting influencers, I fell victim to the mindset that they are lazy, spoilt and entitled people willing to work with any brand under the sun for free products and money. After getting to know them, I have learned that ethical influencers exist.
Some have a moral compass, work hard and diligently and will only work with brands and companies that will align with their values, and that funds their entire livelihood. Social media posting keeps a roof over their head, water and electricity in their house and food on their table. I see it like any other job people do to pay their bills.
The above is not to say that influencers who accept everything sent to them - irrespective of how exploitative and morally corrupt the brand is - don’t exist.
Often, they are working on contracts with strict deadlines. That leaves them with three choices during climate disasters: one, to abide by their contract and post to social media with the high likelihood of backlash, two, not post, breach their contract and deal with whatever consequences their contract prescribes, and three, reach out to the brands they’re working with and ask to delay their posting dates.
I indulge in the influencer lifestyle now and then but I am becoming increasingly thankful that it is not my primary source of income. I contacted the brands I was working with in January and delayed all posting dates. I took a strict no-posting policy while the events played out. The brands I worked with were understanding and happy to defer. Many brands understand the optics of forcing their influencers to post during a time people are losing their homes is damaging at best.
As climate change revs its engines, climate disasters will increase in frequency and severity, and more New Zealanders will be affected by its harm. This leaves me questioning whether there is a future for social media influencers as the crisis rages. If there is a climate disaster every week, there may not be an appropriate time for influencers to return to posting. It may seem benign, but it is quite the opposite. Losing your only source of income, especially when the cost of living is soaring, is depressing.
On one hand, you have the potential target audience. These may be people who are affected by the floods. On the other, you have the influencers who earn an income from posting on social media regularly. On both sides, we have people whose lives are being disrupted by climate change.
I am empathetic to influencers’ situations. Many have worked tirelessly to create their platform and relationships with brands and companies. I also feel for people who’ve lost so much to climate disasters and feel antagonised by influencers trying to sell them non-essential things. Influencers can continue to post but it will rub their audience up the wrong way. Their audience will unfollow, disengage and develop a disdain for influencers.
The best solution is climate action to prevent these disasters. We are left with this issue as the Government drags its feet on climate action. I struggle to imagine a win-win situation.
Shaneel Shavneel Lal (they/them) was instrumental in the bill to ban conversion therapy in New Zealand. They are a law and psychology student, model and influencer.