What is the role of influencers during Covid-19?

COVID-19 has taken every content space by storm today. Whether it is traditional or digital media today, everyone is discussing it and rightly so.

This brings me to digital media and more importantly the role of “influencers” in today’s landscape. Where are they? What have they been up to? Are they still advocating brands? Well, you don’t have to look any further, all these questions are answered if you scan their social media platforms whether it is Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or even TikTok! Whether their content today is really needed given how the world is suffering, is slowly becoming a question many are asking.

An interesting article titled “Please stop the “Smugsolation': The boastful new social media trend that sees people flaunting their quarantine privilege”, which also served as my inspiration to write this article talked about a new irritating social media trend “Smugsolation” where influencers are showing off their social distancing privileges. At a time when people are worried about how to get by with whatever little savings they have, is it necessary to be bombarded with cooking videos where fancy ingredients are used to create exotic dishes which the under-privileged could not care less of? The article ends with an appeal to be more responsible and empathetic with the kind content put out.

My take on the whole situation is different. As a content consumer, I do look at these posts and wonder how 90% of the viewers might not have the same liberties and luxuries to live how these influencers are portraying even during this pandemic. Are we all just escaping to a different world even if for a short while and ignoring what is happening around the world?

In my opinion, is this escapism not required sometimes? If I spent the entire day just learning about the virus and its effects, I would be very aware yes, but probably sad too. What people sometimes forget is that with this physical isolation comes mental isolation as well. Not everyone lives with their family, spouse, partner, friend, sibling or pet. That feeling of not meeting your colleagues every day, discussing politics with your auto driver or just seeing new faces in the metro can leave you feeling isolated and hollow.

Influencers have always been a medium for us to escape into a different world, whether we want to accept it or not. Which product they endorse is secondary, they are here because we can connect with their content on some emotional level – whether it is aspirational or familiar. I must confess here that I spend a considerable amount of time these days watching Tanmay Bhat just sit at home and spend time with his roommates. It reminds me of my MBA days and for 30 minutes in a day serves as a good distraction.

If you can accept what I am trying to say here, we need to also look at the kind of content influencers have created in the past month. Despite a lack of a regulatory body for influencers they have been quite responsible with their content. Whether it is this beautiful video by Bhuvan Bam on Whatsapp rumours or Prajakta Kohli on washing hands correctly, influencers have done their bit as well. Technology YouTuber, Gaurav Chaudhary has repeatedly advocated #JantaCurfew, in fact, his recent video on the importance of ventilators was really informative! Gaurav Taneja (Flying Beast) and his wife Ritu are YouTubers and pilots by profession, who have documented their entire quarantine journey to explain the process to their viewers so that they are well informed and are more proactive with self-care methods. Is this all not good awareness?

Coming to the lifestyle, beauty, travel bloggers, who can’t seem to get enough of putting up throwback travel content, makeup tutorials or turning into amateur chefs during this time. But is that wrong? Are we not also googling Sanjeev Kapoor/ Tarla Dalal/ Jamie Oliver recipes as well? Are we not secretly looking at old holiday pictures? Or are you done complaining about your bushy eyebrows on Zoom chats with friends and family? I know these are non-issues in comparison to the economy, medical infrastructural issues, state of the underprivileged but they do exist, right?

Also, when did we reduce the definition of an influencer to the above names and their friends? What about medical professionals, news anchors, politicians, industry veterans and economists who are doing their bit as well? Medical professionals around the world like Dr Anthony Fauci, Francis S. Collins, Dr Stephen M. Hahnin the US, or Dr Sangita Reddy, Dr Naresh Trehan (Medanta), Dr Samir Parekh (Director-Fortis National Mental Health Program) Dr Rajesh Chawla (Pulmonologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital) in India are influencers in their own right! We follow their advice and information disseminated as much as an Anand Mahindra discussing safety measures, rehabilitation efforts like offering his resorts for medical facilities or journalists like Barkha Dutt, Suhasini Haider, Sreenivasan Jain, Faye Dsouza amongst so many others reporting from the ground and endangering their lives, are they not influencers for bringing us the news we need to hear?

While one can say that the above examples are contradictory, yes, I am comparing the efforts of a YouTuber to a medical professional. But that’s exactly my point. Why can’t they both exist as influencers? Someone like Raghuram Rajan is telling me about the importance of saving while Yasmin Karachiwala is helping me stay fit at home for free without having to pay for some fancy fitness app! Influencers and celebrities are doing their bit by donating and making the right appeals from their followers as well. They are as empathetic and scared at the same time as we are.

So, while “Smugsolation” is one way of looking at it, another way is to look at it, is how can you influence someone to stay indoors today and stay safe? I’d say make that content for anyone and everyone because we all need it in one way or the other.

Shivaji Sinha is consulting associate, The PRactice

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