Problematic content with influencers

In the critical discussion of influencers, the focus is usually on the advertising that can be contained in posts and videos. However, there are other problematic contents and tendencies that children and young people should be made aware of. In this way, they can classify their idols on the Internet in a competent and informed manner.

Political extremism

The most clicked video of 2019 in Germany was "The Destruction of the CDU" by YouTuber Rezo. Where rap and comedy videos usually dominate, a video with political content made it to the top on YouTube for the first time. So far, Rezo's video has remained the exception rather than the rule, and high-reach influencers rarely turn to political topics. In a non-representative survey conducted by klicksafe, around half of young people stated that they would like to see political content from influencers.

In recent years, however, it has been observed that influencers from the identitarian, folkish and racist spectrum are cleverly using social media to expand their reach. As part of a research on "Anti-Semitism online 2.0" by, almost 5,000 profiles, posts and videos as well as about 100,000 comments were analyzed. One central finding: anti-Semitism is not a marginal phenomenon, but almost ubiquitous. Conspiracy theories are reproduced just as much as anti-Semitic stereotypes.

In an article, the internet portal CORRECTIV vividly describes how two young activists from the New Right were deliberately sponsored as identification figures by well-known scene figures. A recurring theme of these influencers is the claim that Germany is ruled by a dictatorship of opinion. This dictatorship forbids the expression of views that deviate from the mainstream. These influencers present themselves as the last bastion of truth, which they spread via their social media channels. This goes hand in hand with conspiracy theories such as the "great exchange" or the idea that a "tidal wave" of migrants is "flooding" Germany.

For children and young people, it can be difficult to distinguish between news that is based on facts and news that is merely allegations and lies. When dealing with social media, they need support to be able to critically question and correctly classify the sources. Our information brochure for families "Do you still trust or do you already check?".

Problematic role models

Many successful female influencers still have a rather antiquated role model. Female influencers are primarily restricted to topics that are perceived as typically female, such as food, fashion and beauty. Influencers, on the other hand, dominate in areas associated with masculinity, such as fitness and gaming, or as experts in knowledge and politics. In a survey, Plan International found that two-thirds of users are not bothered by this portrayal of traditional role patterns.

The reason for this adherence to established role models can be found in the mechanisms of action of social media portals. The "value" of influencers is measured in terms of clicks, likes and views. Those who post role-conforming content online generate more likes and thus increase their virtual value. In the study "Female Self-Staging in the New Media" by the MaLisa Foundation, an anonymous female Youtuber says: "The more striking the cliché, the better it gets clicked. The more you conform to a certain ideal of beauty or a certain expectation, of course you earn better money."

The problem is that established role models can only change if children and young people find role models in their environment who can show them alternatives. To avoid getting stuck in clichés of girls putting on makeup and boys playing video games, it can be useful to introduce children and young people to other content that does not reproduce the same role patterns over and over again.

One-sided body images

The different role models that are intended for men and women also shape the body images that influencers propagate. Especially in the area of fitness, there is a strong focus on a standardized body. For men, a muscular body with little body fat is considered desirable, for women an extremely slim physique. What both body images have in common is that they can usually only be achieved through lengthy training and a highly regimented form of nutrition. A study by the University of Witten/Herdecke concludes that influencers regularly imply that the desired body shapes can be achieved more quickly with the help of advertised dietary supplements or special sportswear.

Furthermore, it is suggested that a standardized body shaped by control and willpower is desirable and beautiful. Achieving this ideal is the basis for a happy and healthy life and a positive self-image. Particularly girls who are taught the ideal of a slim body are at risk of developing an eating disorder. Researchers at the University of Witten/Herdecke also warn of the possible negative health consequences: "Through the intensive daily consumption of social media content, young people are significantly shaped in their attitudes and opinions about health-related behaviors. Since influencers are not focused on health promotion but on revenue generation, there is a need to protect and accompany adolescents in their psychological and physical development."

Children and adolescents should be taught that a good and successful life does not depend on a certain appearance. To do this, they need to know what effort goes into shaping such a body, what tools are used to edit posing pictures, and also what harmful side effects malnutrition or the use of dietary supplements can have.