Influencer culture, on the surface, appears desirous. Young-looking individuals draped in designer outfits, surrounded by champagne, poppers, and other well-known signals of stature. Influencer marketing seems to be a rewarding career. Social media has brought previously untapped economic value. People are hired to travel or to promote fancy brands—getting paid to be fabulous.
The new rich also present an enviable lifestyle where they can afford to stay at the best hotels, extravagant trips, and the fastest cars. They’re often linked with influencers because they don’t have a visible income. Still, if they have a large social media following, they will often partner with luxury brands and appear to have the same lavish lifestyle as influencers.
However, maintaining appearances can be a tall order for most not from wealthy backgrounds. In April 2023, a Kenyan influencer passed away in Malaysia while reportedly carrying a bag of cocaine in her stomach for her Nigerian boyfriend. Reports show that the bag ruptured, causing an overdose. She was known as Brenda (Brendalicious on Instagram) and a proponent of the soft life. Brenda was a law graduate whose Instagram bio stated, “One thing about me, I will live my best life.” Her posts were a reflection of this motto. It begs the question, was she moonlighting as a drug mule to fund her lifestyle?
The cost of a lavish lifestyle
Nouveau riche individuals nowadays have accounts filled with clothing hauls, product placements, and the company of the ultrarich. They attend exclusive concerts and events, with musicians, actors, and sports stars littering their feeds. It seems harmless until people dig deeper and see the rots in the flexing industrial complex.
Harmful beauty trends like heroin chic are returning, where almost-starvation diets are now the in-thing. Social media algorithms are pushing dangerous low-calorie diet influencers more than they used to be and the Brazilian butt lift influencers. The newly rich also promote multi-level marketing schemes, or cryptocurrency, which cost people more than they invest.
Making money and looking rich online comes at a high cost. Streamers of colour on Twitch frequently share how they get revenue from playing popular video games online, but they must endure torrents of racial abuse. So, while they get packages of the latest games without paying for them, the cost is mental well-being. It also takes a lot of time to grow a following on Twitch.
The odds of merited success on social media are low if you don’t have any access to wealthy, popular, and famous celebrities. Devolving into schemes can help you sell a lifestyle while using lies to fund your livelihood. Forex and crypto accounts are growing despite warnings against unchecked trading sites. Crypto is also frowned upon because of its volatility, lack of oversight, and secure structures.
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There are also life coach schemes where users are encouraged to subscribe, follow or pay for courses that can influence their lives holistically or just in careers. Influencers sell a lifestyle of zen and wealth which they achieve by following those simple rules and habits that you must pay to learn.
Regular users who wish to follow the same route often resort to clout chasing to acquire the same lifestyle. People who are newly famous online appear like they get paid for being famous. The gaudy posts provide a kind of CV that they can use to verify their backgrounds and get more endorsements or sponsorships in the long run.
Research shows that social media users are disproportionately inspired by influencer accounts, especially those with whom they have a parasocial bond—the more followers, the higher the perceived credibility. Showing a certain lifestyle attracts more followers. This creates a cycle where content creators must display a certain amount of wealth reflecting the content they’re peddling. If they’re makeup creators, hoards of makeup kits and brushes fill their studios. Showing excess in the speciality chosen creates some trustworthiness.
Influencers who don’t come from a wealthy background sink to desperate measures to maintain a show of status. Musician Loren Gray showed that influencers fake going to the Coachella music festival. They put on a show of wearing outfits that look like part of the festival. Most of their TikTok content is captured within hotel rooms next to deserts.
Most famously, Anna Sorokin cheated her way through New York’s elite by lying that she was a European heiress. While her agenda wasn’t to scam her way to millions of followers, she was more interested in making her way through the rich, connected, and powerful in New York. Her story fell apart in 2018 after she used a friend’s credit card to pay for a hotel stay in Morocco worth $70,000. Sorokin served nearly four years of her sentence but was later arrested by customs authorities for overstaying her visa. While under house arrest, she still runs a successful Instagram account with over a million followers.
How can social media users protect themselves?
As long as numbers determine relevance and profit on social media, content creators will resort to more measures to maintain appearances. Clout chasing through harmful methods such as pranks, rage bait, or stunting may make creators appear real, bold, or daring. It can seem admirable that they’re willing to do almost anything to stay on top. But this is not safe for users.
Considering the near-fatal costs of maintaining this social media clout, users should practice self-regulation. The newly rich can achieve their lifestyles because they “worked hard.” If you’re down on your luck, you can feel like you should try growing a social media account and make it too. But the algorithm is cruel and unusual. Most genuine creators usually have personalized content until something they post goes viral. After this, they curate their feed to have similar content. This is popular among sketch comedians who have made an art form out of their acting.
Read also: Is Social Media A Thief Of Joy?
Changing your lifestyle to look the way the newly rich and Insta famous look can cost you your integrity or jeopardize your safety. Users can prevent getting caught up in the spiral of lifestyle content by taking advantage of apps that help you manage how much time you spend online. Users can’t expect social media content creators to consider their well-being. It’s up to them to ensure they don’t get caught up in admiring the fancy appearances and forgetting that sometimes all that glitters is fake.
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