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We’re increasingly turning to influencers for information, and it’s a big problem

RMIT University 4 mins read

RMIT academics say all TikTok content should be taken at face value - not as a reliable information source. 

Topics: influencers, fake news, complex issues, content-bias, algorithms, financial advice, finfluencers, entertainment, misleading endorsements, false narratives 

Dr Lauren Gurrieri, Associate Professor of Marketing 

“According to a recent study, nearly half (44%) of Gen Z consumers report making a purchase based on an influencer’s recommendation, compared to 26% of the broader population (Kantar, 2020).  

“Influencers are viewed as trustworthy and credible sources of information due to their perceived authenticity and relatability. This makes their recommendations highly influential.  

“But sometimes these recommendations can be misleading and even harmful. Dangerous health and beauty trends are rife on TikTok, promoted by influencers in DIY tutorials.   

“Recent examples include snorting or inhaling a synthetic hormone to get an “instant tan”; ice facials that can cause frostbite and cold burns; and sunscreen contouring that uses the strategic placement of sunscreen to create tan lines that contour the face but can create UV damage and increase the risk of skin cancers.  

“People are becoming more sceptical of influencers, and rightly so.   

“A recent sweep by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission highlighted concerns with 81 per cent of posts by more than 100 influencers around potentially misleading endorsements and testimonials.  

“So next time, pause and think whether the clip you are watching might be peddling misinformation. 

“Critically analyse the content you are consuming - fact check the information, consider the qualifications of the source, examine the transparency of their endorsements and sponsorships, and always seek out credible information that is free from bias and backed up with evidence.” 

Dr Jay Daniel Thompson, Lecturer, Professional Communication  

“TikTok content encompasses everything from medical conditions to weightlifting and world affairs, provided by both ‘experts’ who are formally qualified or those who are self-appointed. 

“The platform can be an ideal site of information-provision, however, the fact that just about anyone can post to TikTok can mean that not all information on the platform is equal.  

“There have been reports of disinformation and fake news being promoted about everything from vaccines to The Voice to Parliament and the Israel-Hamas conflict.  

"It can also attract dishonesty, such as the woman who was recently convicted for posing as a GP and dispensing medical advice that received up to 15.5 million views.   

“The shortness of videos can dilute nuance and complexity. For example, there’s only so much you can say about the history of Israel-Palestine relations in under 10 minutes.   

“Social media users are advised to accept nothing they encounter on TikTok – or elsewhere – at face value.  

“They should ask questions such as – who is producing this content and what biases might they bring? Has this content been debunked elsewhere?  

“Obtaining info from social media is not problematic in and of itself, but users should consult a range of other sources, too – including newspapers, backed research, fact-checking sites and television.” 

Dr Angel Zhong, Associate Professor, Finance 

“Misinformation on TikTok regarding personal finance, dubbed as #FinTok and #MoneyTok, can range from budgeting tips and oversimplified investment strategies to conflated 'get-rich-quick' schemes.  

“Taking financial advice from TikTok without proper due diligence can lead to uninformed decisions. Additionally, financial advice on TikTok may not be correct. 

“Personal finance is nuanced, and a one-size-fits-all approach may not work for everyone's unique circumstances. 

“For example, the recent viral #GirlMaths mindset on TikTok encourages and justifies irresponsible spending. 

“Creators on TikTok may share financial advice for various reasons, including genuine belief in their methods and desire to share knowledge.  

“But there is no such a thing as a free lunch. Some creators may receive kickbacks from the financial products that they recommend, or they hold stocks or cryptos that they encourage others to buy.  

“What makes it even more dangerous is that they don't disclose their vested interest. 

“When engaging with financial content on TikTok, it's crucial to always: 

  • remember that every individual's financial situation is different. 
  • consider your own circumstances, conduct thorough research, and cross-verify information from reputable sources before making any significant financial decisions. 
  • verify the credibility of the TikTokers providing financial advice. 
  • look for individuals with recognised credentials, relevant educational backgrounds, and demonstrated experience in the financial sector.  
  • seek out independent reviews or testimonials from reputable sources.” 

Dr Torgeir Aleti, Senior Lecturer, Marketing 

“Video-based social media platforms such as TikTok and YouTube are particularly dangerous regarding information consumption and the spread of misinformation. 

“Their algorithms, mixed with the short-form, easily digestible content, are programmed for maximum engagement and continuous consumption.  

“The issue with the short-form continuous rolling content is that users don't get a chance to digest and question information. Without an opportunity to examine and verify consumed information, it is possible to internalise false narratives based on unfounded foundations. 

“Users shouldn't take what they hear at face value when viewing content on topics that grapple with complex issues.  

“Consumers need to understand the business model and purpose of platforms like TikTok and YouTube – to maximise the number of users and the time they spend on the platform.  

“Those creating the algorithms don't care what users watch, as long as they continue watching. If false narratives are more popular, they may be pushed to the top..  

“As such, it is a dangerous space to receive 'facts' from, and consumers need to treat it for what it is – purely an entertainment platform.” 


Contact details:

 

Interviews:  

 

Lauren Gurrieri, +61 411 205 396 or lauren.gurrieri@rmit.edu.au     
Dr Lauren Gurrieri is an Associate Professor of Marketing at RMIT University and the Co-Director of the Centre for Organisations and Social Change. Her research examines gender, consumption and the marketplace, with a focus on inequalities and harms (re)produced and experienced across consumer and digital cultures.  

 

Angel Zhong, +61 433 810 413 or angel.zhong@rmit.edu.au   
Dr Angel Zhong is a finance academic who specialises in empirical asset pricing, digital finance, global financial markets, investor behaviour and the recent trends in retail investing.    

 

Jay Thompson Daniel, +61 439 488 046 or jay.thompson@rmit.edu.au   
Dr Jay Daniel Thompson’s research asks: What might ‘ethical online communication’ look like and in what ways could this help mitigate digital hostility and networked disinformation to create safer online spaces for media consumers and users? His research focuses particularly on journalism and social media.

 

Torgeir Aleti, +61 423 343 088 or torgeir.aleti@rmit.edu.au  
Dr Torgeir Aleti’s research investigates social and relational aspects of consumption choices and behaviour including peer-learning between young adults as well as consumer learning within families. 

   

General media enquiries: RMIT External Affairs and Media, 0439 704 077 or news@rmit.edu.au

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