Responsibility of Influencers (AKA everyone)
What is an "influencer"?
Recently, a new term entered the lexicon. "Influencer". The term is typically used to refer to a person who has a such a large following on social media that companies will pay the "influencer" to promote products. Think the famous bachelorette TV star with a picture on Instagram of her drinking herbal tummy tea, or the trendy football player showing off a picture of his brand piece of jewelry. These "influencers" are literally making money by posting pictures of themselves with certain products or doing certain things, so that thousands of people can see them, in the hopes of influencing people to buy said products. It's newest trend in advertising, and it's kind of scary due to it's lack of transparency.
Consider a different view of what an influencer is. It's you. You are an influencer. You influence people every single day with the content you post online. You might not have the huge audience that "professional" influencers have, but nonetheless, the content you post online does influence people. That influence can be used for good or bad. What message are you sending your friends/followers by posting a picture of you jumping over that "AREA CLOSED" fence for a slightly better angle? You're essentially saying that the rules don't apply to you, and that its ok for all your friends/followers to engage in that same behavior. Now, instead of just one person breaking the rules, all 859 of your followers also think its ok to do the same thing. Imagine the exponential growth of bad behavior that a single picture posted on the internet can have.
What are the responsibilities of "professional influencers"?
Numerous conversations with "professional influencers", like the ones who are getting paid to feature products (see below), have shown that they have an incredible disconnect related to their actions. They obviously understand that what they post on social media is causing people to act in certain ways. It's their job to convince people to buy products or services. But for some reason, the vast majority of professional influencers can't seem to grasp the concept that they might also be influencing people to engage in harmful actions as well. It's absolutely mind boggling.
As an example, let's use the recent wildflower "superbloom" in southern California and the post above from a professional influencer who has 406,000 followers. She is shown above, with no less than a dozen wildflowers in her hand at Walker Canyon, which is public land and an ecological reserve in Lake Elsinore, California, Take a look at the caption, where you'll see she is advertising press-on fingernails that you can buy at your local drug or beauty store for $7.99. Let's just ignore the fact that picking poppies on public land is illegal in California, that all commercial photography in this area requires a permit, and that the model appears to be laughing about the crime she just committed. Let's instead jump to the part where she has picked these wildflowers and is now sending the message to 406,000 people that picking wildflowers is ok.
Now there are 406,000 people who are seeing this behavior and might think that it's acceptable. Even if only 1% of her followers go to the poppy fields and pick wildflowers because of this picture, that's 4,060 more people picking flowers, and at 12 flowers each, that's nearly 50,000 flowers picked that will no longer be enjoyed by the public because of one picture. And if those 4,060 people share a picture with a bouquet of fresh wildflowers in their hand too? Well, you can imagine the exponential growth. Can't imagine it? How about visual proof. The two pictures below were taken about two weeks apart, at the same location the professional influencer above took her wildflower/fake fingernail picture.
Influencers of all kinds, but especially those with huge followings, have a responsibility to think about the impact that their content will have. For example, looking beyond how many sets of fake fingernails they can sell for their corporate sponsors and instead thinking about how their post will impact the places where they are taking photographs to share with the world. Influencers need to be thinking "With this post, am I going to be sending thousands of new people to an ecologically sensitive area? Will all those people treat this place with respect? Am I treating this place with respect?". Professional influencers clearly are not considering these important factors. Their primary concern always seem to be, "How can I take the best shot, from the most unique angle, that will position myself and this product in the most attractive way possible". Unsurprisingly, this results in them doing things that are illegal, and often permanently harmful to public lands. Bottom line, public lands are not a prop to be used to promote people or products.