De-influencers or re-influencers?

March 6, 2023

Criticism of consumer society is of all ages, but now it’s coming from an unexpected corner. A swarm of so-called de-influencers is gaining popularity on TikTok. With millions of viewers, these new social media stars gain fame through videos in which they encourage viewers to consume less. Some of these influencers criticize specific products that are not as good as (other) influencers have made us believe. Others combat consumerism in general and encourage us to stop following trends and buy less stuff in general.

From a hopeful perspective, the popularity of these de-influencers could signal the rise of moral consumption. That is, more and more people developing a critical stance towards consumerism and considering what their actual needs are, and how to fulfil these in a morally just manner. As such, de-influencers could try to seduce consumers to be less hype-minded, buy fewer single-use items and stay away from cheap and flimsy junk altogether.

However, from a soberer perspective, we may just as well interpret de-influencing as yet another (meta-)trend on social media, driven by aspiring online stars who are merely looking for a new niche to occupy and make a name for themselves. This is, for instance, the case with influencers who refer their followers to supposedly better, and sometimes even cheaper, alternative products. At best, these influencers try to make us “better” consumers instead of moral consumers. After all, unless TikTok becomes a platform for downright activism, every influencer will be looking for a revenue stream and telling people not to buy stuff will not attract a lot of advertisers. But even if these influencers do not succeed in nurturing moral consumption and have equivocal motives, at least they symbolize a certain fatigue within the consumer society. Nevertheless, the danger with anti-consumerism becoming part of the techno-capital system, is that the system will commodify it and simply turn it into another product. History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Burning questions
  • Given the nature of TikTok and other social media platforms, the question is whether de-influencers can ultimately make a living without playing their part in the advertising game.
  • (When) will this trend be hijacked by marketeers making ironic parodies or attempting to steer consumers to supposedly non-consumerist brands such as Patagonia?

About the author(s)

Fascinated by the interplay between technology and society, Sjoerd has studied the role of different actors in the innovation and implementation of new technologies throughout his career. At the thinktank, he is mainly involved in research and consultancy projects for clients, and strategic and thematic research for sister company Dasym. Among other themes, Sjoerd frequently writes and speaks about the power and danger of digital technology, as well as sustainability in both technological and institutional innovation.

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