You Are Being Influenced – The New York Times

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Taylor Lorenz has been writing for years about people who gain a following from their cooking shows on Instagram or sewing channels on YouTube, and then leverage their popularity to sell merchandise or promote companies’ products.

Some of you must be thinking: People make money that way? And who cares? Yes, and you should. These “influencers” are shaping our habits, even during a pandemic and even if we’re clueless about it.

Taylor talked to me about influencers’ power, their current mix of opportunity and stress, and her STRONG FEELINGS that internet companies could do more to protect us from manic online lives.

Shira: Why should we care about influencers?

Taylor: Influencers are part of a massive industry that drives retail, marketing, entertainment and more. Companies’ marketing deals with influencers are projected to be far larger than advertising sales for the entire newspaper industry in the United States.

The products you see in Target and Walmart are often the influencers’ own products, use their names, are developed with them or are promoted by them.

People who say they don’t follow influencers might have scrolled through updates from an Instagram mommy blogger, taken a cruise after seeing someone’s YouTube review or bought needlepoint kits from a person they follow online. Those are probably all influencers!

How is the pandemic changing what influencers do?

People are spending way more time online, and everything is being shared more and faster than normal. That’s an opportunity, and many influencers are using this time to get more followers and hope the money follows.

And some influencers could be in trouble if they rely on marketing deals with industries like retail, fashion and travel that are hurting.

How will this crisis change how we and social media stars behave online?

It might cull influencers who seem out of touch, like those showing off lavish lifestyles. More of us are likely to adapt what young people are already doing. They’re ditching the hyper-perfect aesthetic online, and embracing the chaos of livestreaming and TikTok, where humor and personality matter more than beautiful pictures.

How do you feel about people spending more time online now?

I worry about the lack of healthy boundaries, and internet companies don’t make it easy to escape. These sites need an option to pause activity, and a universal “away” message to signal that you’re taking a break. I deactivate my Twitter account on many weekends so people can’t message me. Many people do that with Instagram. That’s a sign that people want easier ways to tune out and come back.

Who is your must-follow influencer recommendation?

I love the quarantine cooking videos from the 18-year-old chef Eitan Bernath. He’s so upbeat!

In the hundreds of emails you sent us about your experiences shopping online in this pandemic, a number of people asked whether Amazon might offer credit or refunds on Prime membership fees. Short answer: Don’t count on it.

The big promise of the Prime shopping club, which costs $119 for an annual membership in the United States, is fast shipping on eligible items at no added direct cost. As my colleagues (and your emails) have reported, Amazon and many other online stores have been overwhelmed by demand and haven’t been able to sell people everything they want right now, or consistently deliver items at their usual speed.

I asked Amazon whether it might return people’s Prime shipping fees. A representative didn’t answer the question, but instead pointed to other perks for Prime, including Amazon’s Netflix-like streaming video service and a rotating selection of e-books to borrow at no additional cost.

In surveys, however, a large share of Americans say they signed up for Prime primarily for the shipping. The other benefits are gravy, if people are aware of them at all.

  • Seriously, shopping is a dilemma right now: The Ethicist column in The Times tackles the trade-offs of hiring others to deliver you essentials. This may generate much-needed income for them, but it also shifts the health risks to those workers and possibly reduces delivery options for more vulnerable people. (As I wrote earlier this month, these are all hard choices.)

  • This is a familiar and maddening pattern: A member of the U.S. Army Reserves and her husband have been repeatedly harassed by believers of a baseless conspiracy that she brought the coronavirus to China, CNN reported. The story traces false information spread by a popular American YouTube personality.

  • Lasagna! The Times is collaborating with the chef Samin Nosrat on a virtual communal lasagna cooking day. In a lovely essay, Nosrat writes that she hopes this pandemic will force us to drop all the posturing in our online lives and in-person gatherings and be real with one another.

A Shiba Inu dog jamming to tunes in the car. I love Shibas so much.


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