The ethical dilemma of influencer marketing during the pandemic

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I think we are all over grocery shopping in 2021. 

To top it off, once you take your sweaty mask off and finish unloading one hundred pounds of groceries into your car, you are faced with an ethical dilemma.

Should you return your shopping cart to the corral?

Returning the shopping cart does nothing for you, and there is no punishment for not returning the shopping cart. It is a simple task, but it is objectively the right thing to do. According to this theory, your willingness to return the cart is a direct indicator of how crappy of a person you are. 


But what if there were other indicators to help us assess one’s quality of person?

Well, COVID-19 has offered the perfect social experiment into self-governance and contribution to society. It has also provided influencers and organizations with the opportunity to tarnish their reputations in front of their audiences.

Disobeying government orders? Advertising a lifestyle of travel when millions around the world are dying? Sinking thousands into campaigns advertising a lifestyle that supports your organization and contradicts what health experts say? 

Yup...it’s all on display. But unlike the shopping cart dilemma, it’s less cut and dry. 

Influencers and organizations that depend on travel have a point when they say travelling isn’t “illegal.” But is it unfair when almost all non-essential businesses have to abide by the same regulations?

Things don’t have to be illegal to be ethically wrong or make us feel a certain way. 

It’s a grey area that needs to be explored in greater depth. So let's get into it. 

Brands attract influencers into unethical waters

Individual influencers are not solely to blame for what’s going on in the creator economy. Large brands have manufactured lucrative scenarios for creators during the pandemic. Some influencers manufacture their money-making ventures. But most of these travel opportunities would not exist if large organizations were forced to play by the same rules as everyone else.

There are no restrictions on advertising, and it is not illegal to travel, so it is a “wild west” of sorts out there. 

From Tik Tok royalty like Charlie D’amelio to network television stars and airlines, here’s a quick rundown of some of those who received heat during the pandemic. 

Disclaimer 

Let’s get one thing straight before we begin. I am by no means in favor of public shaming people for acting unethically. More often than not, the punishment far exceeds the crime. The power and sheer force of social media can mess with people in hard to reverse ways.

For that reason, be kind even if the person or organization I am referencing wasn’t. No one made you judge, jury, and executioner.

Also, the universe does a better job of handling these issues than we do. So let it be. 

Charli AND Dixie D’amelio x TikTokRoom

Ahh, the D’amelio sisters. Tik Tok Royalty at its finest. As we’ve seen over the pandemic, even royalty can drop the tiara once in a while. Charli D’amelio has been extremely vocal about not breaking the rules and being inconsiderate to others. What an inspiration! 

This is just before she went and did the same thing herself. 

“The way Charli even SPOKE out on Live about how she said she’d do better staying home and social distancing, then they all go to the f****** BAHAMAS?” one fan said on Twitter. “Could that not wait??? Like it’s OK, take a break from social media, I get it, but you can do that AT HOME.”

Yes, Charli and her sisters probably shouldn’t have told their audience to be safe and then travel to the Bahamas. But they traveled to the first-ever, “TikTok Room.”  Can you blame them? Probably.

But TikTok deserves some of the blame for setting up a retreat that advocated for influencers to travel to get there. It seems a little insensitive in a very sensitive time. 

Air Canada x Travel Influencers 

“We’re going to be showing you guys what it’s like to travel again, what it’s like to be on the airplane, to be in Mexico, to be at a resort, and we’re going to be taking you guys along for the entire journey,”

Oh, you thought Canadian brands were too nice to act unethically? Not during COVID-19. The country’s largest airline has been paying social media influencers for months to do what everyone else is not supposed to do: travel.

“In partnership with Air Canada Vacations,” these influencers have been everywhere from Alberta to Curacao. In the below picture, Instagram influencer Tiffany Lai poses in front of some on-brand colors.

“I’ve partnered up with @aircanadavacations and @dreamsresort to show a safe and cautious way of traveling for 2021,” she wrote at the end of December.

The confusing part for the audience is that we aren’t supposed to be traveling. Let alone advertising that experience to the world to encourage others to do the same. Air Canada is acting as a conduit for these influencers and providing them opportunities to make money off an unethical act. 

British influencers shut down Dubai bars and clubs

Some say the travelers are only putting themselves in danger, but their choices have impacts beyond the 2-meter social distance. Dubai is closing all its bars and pubs following a huge covid spike in January. This is after British Influencers like Bethan Kershaw, and Henry Simmons flocked from lockdown heavy U.K. to enjoy the beaches and sun of the UAE.

A few of them proceeded to mock the ban.

What is particularly troubling about this case, there doesn’t seem to be a brand motivating factor that influenced the Brits to travel. They did it on their own accord, which is even more unethical because you don’t have professional reasons to fall back on.

It is unknown whether the many resorts and entertainment venues invited them to come. But their attitude toward flights being suspended from the UAE is questionable at the least. The social media stars have faced serious backlash for their behaviors.

On top of that, they can’t return home. I’m sure their fellow Brits are thinking, “oh, what a shame,” sarcastically as well. 

Navigating the creator minefield of 2021 

If you are a creator, I understand the added stress of operating in an industry that is under immense pressure. But when an opportunity is crushed, new seeds begin to sprout. With more time being spent at home, streaming and entertainment media has seen a huge surge.

Impactful content is becoming one of the most valuable commodities of today. You don’t have to sacrifice your values or go against government orders to become successful. Focus on creating an authentic identity and finding joy in the wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) things you make. 

I don’t have much sympathy for influencers losing their audiences after unethical decisions. But I am not going to go out of my way to make sure the perpetrators know my feelings. They just don’t deserve my follow, or anyone else’s that feels the same way. 

In the end, the strongest action to combat things you don’t support and cannot change is not to support them. Erase them from your social feed, portfolio, and memory. The moment you go-at an unethical decision you can’t control, you give that topic power, even if it’s in a negative light. 

In the end, even the influencers and organizations tagged in this article are going to get exposure from this. There’s no stopping that. But after what Air Canada pulled,  I’ll be selling my Air Canada shares the first chance I get.

That’s the best thing I can do to make my voice heard. What are you gonna do?