Should we care that influencers aren't social distancing?
While it's NBD when an Instagrammer sports a chic sneaker or a TikToker invents the latest "in" dance, it becomes a problem when the actions in question are, well, questionable. And between throwing parties that violate statewide social distancing orders or hanging with a too-large (maskless) pod of friends, some influencers haven't taken their role model status seriously during the COVID-19 pandemic. And their followers are noticing.
"I first started a fan account," says Vienna, a high schooler and founder of the @callinginfluencersout Instagram, "but after I learned that the person I had dedicated my account to had been attending multiple parties in the midst of a pandemic and putting her entertainment over the health and safety of those around her, I decided to dedicate my account to calling out those who refuse to adhere to the social distancing guidelines." In the past few weeks, Vienna's account has gained hundreds of followers eager to report and discuss what they see as the rule-breaking and problematic behavior of teen influencers.
"They're acting oblivious and careless," Vienna explains of many prominent young stars. "By partying and hanging out in large groups, they're putting many people at risk. It's truly aggravated me."
Other teens agree: "I've noticed many TikTok stars going to huge parties unmasked," says Cara, a college student. "It's pretty frustrating to see, especially because my friends and I *are* following social distancing and as a result have been pretty lonely this year."
It's difficult and confusing to figure out what's OK right now. Some schools have gone fully virtual (leaving students staring at screens for 30+ hours a week), yet Donald Trump is planning unmasked, crowded rallies despite his own COVID-19 infection. Families have canceled holiday plans and stayed far away from beloved at-risk members, while others are traveling to beach resorts and hosting homecoming photoshoots. It's hard to know how to be a teenager right now—to find independence, freedom and time with close friends—but also to do your part to keep yourself and others safe.
"Watching TikTokers go on as if life is normal is pretty annoying since the rest of us can't just do that," Cara admits. "We're missing out on all of those things too—school, sports, parties, hanging out with friends."
For influencers, the early months of the pandemic presented unique challenges to their budding careers. Shelter-in-place orders shut down major in-person networking opportunities like Coachella and VidCon, an economic recession impacted in-the-works brand deals and, stuck at home, many influencers were faced with a lack of content to post. While many rising social stars got creative on TikTok or Insta, for others, less strict orders and more frequent testing allowed them to get their careers back on track this summer.
It's a common response to fan accusations—that influencers get tested for COVID-19 more frequently. "Personally, I don't find that fair at all," says Vienna. "There are so many communities in the US that don't have access to proper and safe testing or resources like masks." She's noticed that some influencers get tested *just* to hang out with friends and not for work commitments. "There are people struggling to get tested [for important reasons] and for influencers to be wasting tests just to go to a party really is careless. It shows their priorities."
What *really* bothers fans is the hypocrisy of influencers who use their online platform to "spread a message" then do the exact opposite IRL. "I can name so many influencers that have told their fans to put a mask on, but are seen at parties maskless," Vienna adds. "It just shows that they have no regard for anyone but themselves."
College student Madison agrees: "Watching influencers post about the importance of wearing a mask—then seeing leaked footage of them at an indoor party—makes the narrative they post on social media seem performative." She adds that because influencers benefit from being in the public eye, they owe their followers honesty and trust. "They need to recognize that their actions set precedents that influence the behavior of others," she explains. When you see your stan doing the *wrong* thing, it's tough to know if you're doing the right thing...even when you are.
The pandemic has brought everyone a lot of perspective, including questioning the idea that influencers should be held up as role models at all. "No one is ready to be in that position of having such a big platform at a young age," Cara says. "We can't expect teenagers, no matter how famous, to have everything figured out." Still, she adds that influencers shouldn't be offended or surprised when their fans call them out. "When they do mess up and apologize, then do the same thing over and over again, they can't be upset when their followers call attention to it."
How can you handle being a teenager and living in an unprecedented global pandemic? There's no easy answer, but whether you have three followers or three million, the message is the same: Do what feels right to you. Try to educate the people around you (online or IRL) about the importance of protecting their communities. And, seriously. Wear. A. Mask.
Submit *your* story of handling social distancing during the pandemic to firstname.lastname@example.org.