BBC Panorama episode about Instagram and YouTube influencers divides opinions online

The programme placed an ‘unfair focus on the darkness of this industry’, one viewer stated

Sabrina Barr
Tuesday 12 February 2019 17:44
Love Island's Zara McDermott discusses being paid to promote products on social media for BBC Panorama investigation

A BBC Panorama investigation exploring the rise of social media influencers and the amount of money they are are offered to advertise products has sparked a debate online, with some stating that the programme doesn't provide a "balanced" view of the topic.

"Million Pound Selfie Sell Off" aired on 11 February BBC One.

The programme investigated how companies have taken advantage of those with large online followings for advertising purposes, in addition to traditional methods of marketing.

Despite being praised for raising awareness of the ease of promoting dieting supplements, gambling-related products and alcohol on digital platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, the episode has also received some criticism from those who believed it placed an "unfair focus on the darkness of this industry".

One of the interviewees featured on the programme was former Love Island contestant Zara McDermott.

The 21-year-old, who has a million followers on Instagram, spoke about being offered thousands of pounds to feature products on her social media profiles.

"[I was offered] £3,000 for one Instagram story which would probably take me 10 minutes to do," she said.

Several people who watched the programme have pointed out that the investigation appeared quite "one-sided", as it seemed to imply that all influencers who promote products on their social media profiles are doing so in an irresponsible and harmful manner.

"Nothing infuriates me more than being lumped under the umbrella of ‘influencers’ as if we are all identical with the same work ethics, aesthetics and morals," tweeted blogger Lucy Williams.

"Interesting #bbcpanorama on influencer marketing but where were the examples of influencers who DO take responsibility for their audience?" another viewer added.

"There are lots – and many responsible brands/organisations who are aware of their audiences and careful of who they work with."

In September 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority released the Influencer's Guide, a set of guidelines that outlines the rules that social media influencers need to abide by when advertising products online.

The guide states that any time a company provides an influencer with payment, a gift or any other sort of perk for promoting their brand, "any resulting posts become subject to consumer law".

In accordance with the rules, it's the responsibility of both the brand and the influencer to ensure that all content that's advertising a product or brand is clearly labelled as such.

One Panorama viewer explained that while she's aware of the "amazing things" some people do on social media, the impact it can have on the mental health of young people is an important issue that needs to be addressed.

"I don't deny that #Panorama tonight was very one sided and grouping all influencers as the same, but I think it did emphasise even more the importance of thinking SO carefully about all the content you put online," she tweeted.

"I agree, representation of the influencers/creators doing great things online is not there. But I think, first, we really need to do something about the impact certain 'influencers' are having on people's mental health, and that teenagers 'can't live without social media'."

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A recent study conducted by University College London found that teenage girls are twice as likely than their male counterparts to exhibit symptoms of depression as a result of social media use.

The paper, which was published in journal EClinicalMedicine, found that 12 per cent of light social media users, and 38 per cent of those who use social media for at least five hours a day, showed signs of severe depression.

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