If there is something fishy about influencers, why do we take the bait?

Social media influencer, Yovana Mendoza, provided an amusing diversion from Brexit last week.

The 20-something vlogger built a very lucrative personal brand around veganism. She amassed over 3m followers on YouTube and Instagram by advocating a raw vegan diet and 25-day water fasts.

All seemed to be going well until a competitor observed and filmed Mendoza eating seafood. The vlogger’s embarrassment was compounded by the fact that she tried to hide the fish.

Unsurprisingly, the ensuing video went viral.

Mendoza performed what has become the ritual apology on online media: “It was the worst day of my life. I felt like someone had died,” she posted. “Someone did”, was one of the less abusive responses, “the fish”.

The final act in the saga was her own video in which she confessed to eating fish “for health reasons”.

The episode illustrates some fundamental features of the online world. It shows how the popularity of products or ideas need not necessarily be connected to the inherent merits of the offer.

There has always been a strong tendency in popular culture for success to breed success. Things become desirable, not necessarily on account of their inherent qualities, but simply because they are already popular.

The internet compounds these tendencies. The inherent attributes of products become outweighed by the effect of social influence on the choices that people make.

In more conventional markets, where social influence is weak, economic theory has a good understanding of how consumers behave. In this type of market, consumers gather information on the attributes of the alternatives, such as price and quality, choosing products based on their individual preferences and affordability.

In recent decades, the theory has been expanded to incorporate situations in which consumers don’t have all the information to hand.

But it is still essentially based on the idea that people compare what a product offers with what they want.

This differs in the online world, because what people want is altered by observing what other people want.

For example, Mendoza sought to convince her 3m followers that raw veganism and extreme water fasts were part of a healthy lifestyle, despite not following her own advice.

There is no suggestion that Mendoza’s work is fake. But the high emotional content that she regularly published gave it a better chance of being noticed and spread by social influence.

People are learning this fast, and the use of “clickbait” is spreading rapidly.

The largest ever study on fake news was published just over a year ago in the Science journal, and it concluded that fake news and rumours tended to spread much faster and reach more people than accurate stories.

A key reason is that fake news typically shows a much higher level of emotion in their overall content. The question is whether we will all learn to see through this and start behaving rationally again.

But the furore around Brexit suggests that we have some way to go.

Paul Ormerod 

As published in City AM Wednesday 3rd April 2019
Image: Clickbait by Pete Unseth via Wikimedia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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ALEX O’BYRNE

Associate

e: aobyrne@volterra.co.uk
t: +44 020 8878 6333

Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.

ELLIE EVANS

Senior Partner

e: eevans@volterra.co.uk
t: +44 020 8878 6333

Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.