Instagram ban for Love Island’s Molly-Mae

Bad influence? She is in trouble for breaking advertising rules. © ASA

Are influencers undermining democracy? Molly-Mae is the latest to be censured for dishonest Instagram posts, yet more and more young people are turning to celebrities for information.

It was a moment of high drama when the last couples on Love Island 2019 gathered to hear the winners announced – and it became even more dramatic when Molly-Mae Hague burst into tears.

Although she had to settle for second place, Molly-Mae proved so popular with viewers that she has now 3.6 million followers on Instagram. But this week, she fell foul of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for promoting an online retailer without making it clear that she was being paid.

Molly-Mae is not the first social influencer to be criticised by the ASA for dishonesty: others have included Made in Chelsea’s Louise Thompson and Millie Mackintosh.

Nor are the concerns about such celebrities confined to advertising. As these celebrities’ influence grows, more members of the public turn to them for information rather than to traditional sources, such as newspapers, which are more concerned with establishing facts.

Between 2009 and 2018, the proportion of teenagers from economically advanced countries who read newspapers fell from 60% to 20%.

The recent fires in the Amazon rainforest showed how unreliable influencers can be. Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio and President Macron of France all posted misleading photographs – some of them dating from a previous year, and others showing the wrong forests.

This meant that the Brazilian government, which had been accused of tackling the fires half-heartedly, could truthfully claim that its critics did not know what they were talking about.

Not surprisingly, influencers tend to focus on dramatic news stories since these will attract the most followers. But for a society to work properly, it needs people who can hold government to account by probing into arguably less exciting topics (like a local council’s financial dealings), using writers and researchers with time, tenacity and a respect for facts.

Celebrities can also be used to launder reputations.

Last month, Armie Hammer, Sofia Richie and Winnie Harlow all posted enthusiastically about an expenses-paid trip to a music festival in Saudi Arabia, despite the country’s terrible human-rights record.

Is if fair to say that influencers are undermining democracy?

Who do you trust?

Yes, they are, say some. In a world flooded with fake news, we need people we can trust to give us reliable information. But influencers are not interested in rigorously checking their facts, and sometimes they whip up their followers without fully grasping an issue. A healthy democracy depends on proper news organisations – but as these lose revenue to social media, their resources become ever more limited.

Don’t be so stuffy, say others. Young people are more discerning than they are given credit for. They know that influencers are paid a lot of money to promote products, and can lack a real understanding of politics, so audiences take such posts with a pinch of salt. They follow them for entertainment, not information: if they really want to know about an issue, they will turn to a proper news source.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather get your news from social media or a newspaper?
  2. Should there be strong penalties for influencers who spread false information and, if so, what form should they take?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are an influencer. Think of an issue which is important to you, and devise a series of six posts to tell your followers about it. Make each post one-sentence long, and draw a picture to illustrate it.
  2. Split into teams of three. Each represents the staff of an imaginary newspaper, and has to decide which four subjects to put on today’s front page, in order of importance. Come up with a name for your paper, write a headline for each story, and choose a photograph to go with the main one. Then make a five-minute presentation explaining the decisions you have made. At the end, hold a class vote to decide which paper is the best.

Some People Say...

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third president of the USA

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Molly-Mae Hague was a runner-up on Love Island. She has 3.6 million Instagram followers. The ASA has censured her for a post promoting the Little Pretty Thing website which did not make it clear that she was being paid. The number of teenagers reading newspapers in economically advanced countries fell by two-thirds between 2009 and 2018. Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio and President Macron all posted incorrect information about the fires in the Amazon jungle last year.
What do we not know?
Whether Molly-Mae deliberately hid the fact that she was promoting the Little Pretty Thing site, or whether she simply forgot to include the hashtag “#ad”. And if teenagers who absorb news from influencers realise they are not always going to reliable sources.

Word Watch

Love Island
A revival of the earlier celebrity series of the same name, which aired on ITV for two series in 2005-2006. The winter 2020 series will be presented by Laura Whitmore, standing in for regular host Caroline Flack.
Fell foul of
Get on the wrong side of a person or organisation.
Advertising Standards Authority
An independent body which takes action over adverts that are misleading, harmful, offensive or irresponsible.
Made in Chelsea
Chronicles the lives of affluent, shallow, young Londoners living in and around Belgravia, the King’s Road, Chelsea and Knightsbridge.
President Macron
French president since 14 May 2017.
Tenacity
Determination to see something through.
Launder reputations
Reputation laundering is the process of covering up the corrupt actions (past or present) of an individual, government or company, and then presenting their character or behaviour in a positive light.
Armie Hammer
US actor.
Sofia Richie
US model and fashion designer.
Winnie Harlow
Canadian fashion model and spokesperson on the skin condition vitiligo. Former contestant on America’s Next Top Model.
Democracy
In a democracy, the people have a say in how the government is run. They do this by voting, but there are rules about who can vote.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.