The old maxim about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely, springs to mind whenever I look at the “influencer” scene in Ireland. There is no end of problematic activities taking place in that tightly bound sphere of the Irish internet, as young and not so young people who have found fame through their online activities – their blogging, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat or YouTube accounts, and frequently all of the above – seek to leverage that fame into something like a career. The problem is, unless you have a fair degree of raw or learned talent for a specific thing, or several things, coupled with a genuine enthusiasm for and commitment to your chosen interests, you are not going to make a living from publishing items on the internet. At best, such postings can become a financial sideline based upon a nebulous and very uncertain income derived from third-party advertising or sponsorships. One subject to the whims and fashions of online culture, where what is exciting or of note today is old hat tomorrow.
So, in the absence of long-term certainty or a willingness to work for little more than the love of it, and perhaps in perpetual anonymity, some “influencers” in this country go down the route of seeking out the quick and easy buck; the one that occasionally comes with internet celebrity. In short, they hire themselves and their opinions out for hire to those companies with the biggest wallet. They demand or are offered money, products or services in return for promoting anything and everything to their less discerning or more enamoured followers. People who are sometimes considerably younger than the person being followed and towards whom, one would imagine in any other circumstance, the followed had some degree of responsibility.
This murky world of corrupt and corruptibility has seen some exposure in the work of the Instagram account, Bloggers Unveiled. The anonymous individual behind this persona has rightly shone a light into the darker corners of Ireland’s internet culture, where fame merges with profit and profit with business. Consequently threats have flown, both legal and literal, from those who have been subject to its scrutiny. Those who have hitherto basked in the unquestioning glow of their fans and admirers, and the obsequiousness and patronage of the bagmen and bagwomen striving for their attention. And they don’t like it.
The onus is upon non-corporate content producers and publishers in Ireland, whether professional or amateur, who see the world wide web as something greater than simply a mechanism for accruing fleeting celebrity or riches, who value it as a tool for the dissemination of knowledge and information, from the political blogger to the hobbyist YouTuber, to support those who are helping to self-regulate the Irish internet through the investigation and reporting of the more troubling characters among us. Whether those characters are simply the gullible and the misguided, or others far less savoury in nature.
This includes an obligation to reject the informal and unsolicited enticements and blandishments of PR firms and businesses, hawking their wares through emails and direct messaging. To demand openness and sobriety from firms suggesting professional partnerships and relationships. And to be explicit with our readers, watchers or followers where such connections are formalised. In order to protect the internet freedoms we value so much, which brought us online in the first place, we must take a stand or those freedoms will be irreversibly compromised, lost because of the foolish or selfish actions of others.