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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Caution: Credible advice is critical


Illustration by Eva Lycette (She/Her)/ Mass Media Staff. 

Bundled within the Age of Information is the Plague of Misinformation. Misinformation has many forms such as fake news, conspiracy theories, clickbait, propaganda, deep fakes and misleading promotions or statistics. As we spend more time online, our purchasing, lifestyle, fitness and investment decisions are influenced by the recommendations and advice of social media influencers [1].This sets us up for many challenges while navigating the digital age. 

As we all know, teens and young adults get almost all their information through the internet. We often google our health issues, follow health and wellness YouTubers and turn to Discord and Reddit groups for financial literacy. It is convenient, anonymous, gives us access to a wide range of opinions and is very cost effective. The consequences of this are easy to see—for example, the hype around cryptocurrency and the GameStop stock phenomenon in early 2021 has influenced more teens to seek investment advice online and start investing in the real world [2]. Yet this leaves us open to a lot of misleading or outright false information. 

Something that can trap us is misleading promotional content or content creators who give advice without credible knowledge or sourcing. Many influencers are often perceived as experts in their respective fields due to their large social media following and ability to create engaging and entertaining content. Not all influencers are experts and not all their suggestions are based on actual expertise or experience. Even government authorities have taken note. For example, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged eight social media influencers in December 2022 with scheming to manipulate stocks they promoted on Discord and Twitter [3].  

It was a simple plan. These influencers purchased certain stocks and then influenced their followers to invest in those stocksAs the prices of the stocks rose, they secretly sold their holdings without telling their followers. This might seem harmless at first, but their reach was immensethscam netted them about 100 million dollars [3]. 

Influencer dishonesty can be seen across many other fields as well, such as beauty and fitness. For example, an influencer in the beauty industry may promote a skincare product without having any background in dermatology or the science of skincare. This is largely true when many influencers promote dietary or vitamin supplements as immune boosters. These supplements are categorized as food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, not as drugs, and as a result, they don’t need to undergo extensive clinical trialsThe immune boosting properties are based on the opinion of the manufacturer and might not be evaluated by the FDA at all. Influencers often pass off the supposed benefits of the supplements they sell as undisputed fact [4].

Influencers who have large followings on social media platforms are often perceived as trustworthy and relatable. Unfortunately, some influencers take advantage of this trust and use their influence to mislead youth into buying their products. Although there is no specific measure to test them for their credibility, there are a few things to consider before trusting someone with your money, fitness or beauty. 

Promoting unrealistic expectations by showcasing exaggerated results or benefits can be a key indicator. If it is too good to be true, then it’s probably misleading advice. Everybody should be aware that influencers receive compensation from brands for promoting their products, but they often do not disclose this information to their followers. This can mislead people into thinking the influencer genuinely loves and uses the product, when in fact they’re just being paid to promote it. In the heights of the cryptocurrency boom of 2021, many cryptocurrency influencers made hundreds of thousands of dollars from undisclosed paid promotions, while their followers lost millions after the value of these currencies crashed [5]. 

Another tactic to be aware of is how influencers create a sense of urgency in their viewers. This perceived urgency might push us to invest in things without much thought or consideration. Social media’s most powerful feature is the ability for videos to go viral, and virality easily spreads misinformation. A 2021 study in ScienceDirect found that, todaya greater number of brands utilize web-based platforms to promote their products, and fitspirationshort for “fitness inspiration”—content on social media often includes distressing themes that can lead to eating disturbances, excessive exercising and misuse of supplements [6]. The next time you see a video on how to build on six pack abs within 15 days,” or anything similar, make sure to unfollow them and even report the content as spam or misleading. 

A 2022 study in the National Library of Medicine found that the more people browse the content of influencers, the more they compare their own looks with that of the influencer [7]This can have negative effects on their bodily image, resulting in an aspiration for certain looks and buying influencer-promoted beauty products [7]. 

Influencers are also generating more income by selling their courses online. According to VOX Media, these courses are lucrative and distinctively nonacademic” [8]. It’s hard to validate whether they hold the necessary qualifications or experience to provide high-quality instruction. A study from the University of Alberta found that among popular English-language, fitness and exercise bloggersonly around two bloggers had relevant certifications for every seven who reported themselves as professionals [9]. 

So, before blindly following someone, invest time into knowing their digital activities. An account can hardly be credible if it’s only existed for a few weeks or months without any prior online presence or relevant experience. More views or subscribers do not increase credibility. Verify that the influencer’s following is authentic, and not inflated with bots or fake accounts. You can use tools like Social Blade,” a statistics website which measures online presence to check an influencer’s follower growth over time and ensure it is not artificial. 

For nutrition or health adviceit’s best to follow anyone with M.S. or R.D. after their name. For fitness, look out for American Council on Exercise, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, or the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Look for influencers who cite credible sources in their videos, such as peer-reviewed journals or reputed organizations. As followers, you can always ask for sources from your favorite creators. 

It’s important to approach investment advice online with a healthy dose of skepticism. The Warren Buffett Challenge, where he successfully showed that a low-cost S&P 500 index fund would outperform the results achieved by high-end, professionally managed portfolio of hedge funds over 10 years, can be seen as a reminder that retail investors do not necessarily need to chase quick profits through active trading or investing in high-risk individual stocks [10]. 

Truthful and accurate content helps people make informed decisions. It is created to educate or entertain the audience, and not solely for generating views, likes or followers. A product or investment is not necessarily legitimate only because more people advocate for it. Look out for logical fallacies like this. 

Expert advice isn’t usually free; on the other hand, accessing advice online can be free or at least low cost. But it is better to look out for red flags—the best we can do is ensure the advice we are considering is credible and appropriate. 



[1] Data on how influencer promotions influence us- 

[2] Gamestop hype 

[3] SEC scam – SEC.gov | SEC Charges Eight Social Media Influencers in $100 Million Stock Manipulation Scheme Promoted on Discord and Twitter 

[4]Influencers and dietary supplements 

[5] Crypto influencers and paid promotions  

[6] Fitspiration on social media: Body-image and other psychopathological risks among young adults. A narrative review – ScienceDirect 

[7] Browsing and comparing with influencers 

[8] Vox media on influencer courses 

[9] Data one influencer credentials 

[10] Warren buffet challenge- 

About the Contributor
Charan Reddy, Opinions Writer