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Exclusive: Clout-chasing influencers are genetically prone to being two-faced

Today, more than ever, social media influencers have become modern-day celebrities, unlike in the past where ‘celebhood’ was limited to big name entertainers, TV presenters and politicians.

Influencers captivate their audiences with carefully curated lifestyles and content to keep them hooked and coming back for more, especially if their followers cannot afford or have no opportunity to lead lives similar to those of their favorite influencers.

According to a 2022 Forbes report, there were more than 50 million people around the world who considered themselves to be influencers on various digital social media platforms. It was estimated they would number more than 64 million by June 2023, and much higher today.

Being an influencer continues to suck in many more, each vying to get a slice of the pie of the digital space. This affects ordinary followers, and ‘big-time’ celebrities in various industries also seek to be online influencers to grow and maintain their social standing.

These aspirants are enticed by the fame and fortune that ‘influencing’ promises, including a lucrative lifestyle without having to put in the 9am-5pm day’s job.

The desire to become influencers has seen many people go to extreme lengths, most notably clout chasing – the pursuit of fame through provocative or attention-grabbing online behaviour.

This is something many Kenyan entertainers are infamous for. They will post controversial content, engage in online drama, lie about pricey possessions and even dropping the names of bigger celebs. All this in endeavor to boost their online following, increase their social status or catch the attention of potential corporate partners.

But why do influencers go to such great lengths to attract the attention of strangers and work extremely hard to maintain their attention, aside from the aforementioned reasons?

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According to counselling psychologist Dr Venus Kyengo, a practitioner with The Myndspa, it could be as a result of social disorders that some of these influencers suffer from.

“Without having psychological assessment, they go unnoticed, yet they are important to person’s existence,” Dr Kyengo says.

“Evidently, in this day and time of social media influence, we find people with pseudo personalities, in layman’s terms, a split personalities. This is whereby in the social media space, they have this face but at home, they are very different. Some of the so-called celebrities are known for living fake lives,” she explains.

According to Dr Kyengo, psychological factors contribute to influencers’ desire for attention and validation.

“That is a personality issue. There are personalities that have been picked to want a lot of attention. These are people love attention. They give attention to their looks, invest in how they dress and what they wear in. They like to be the show-stoppers. When we are looking at this sociability, we are also bringing in how one is created. And that is the genetic component that their personality is already predisposing them to that level whereby they’d be very predisposed to having a two-faced kind of person in them,” she explains.

According to Dr Kyengo, culture and perception – based on the glass half empty-half full world view – are the other factors that would push some influencers to clout chase.

“In Europe, their economic status is quite stable and just being able to buy the little instruments that are needed to do the videos for these social media apps is very easy. They display a lot of flashiness but to them, it is not flashy per se, it’s normal living. However, here in Africa, you really have to invest well in equipment. With the economic differences, this predisposes people to a lot of unnecessary pressure.

“Think of a celebrity who is in Kenya who really wants to keep their standards the same as the one who is in the United States. It brings in issues of economic status. All this is being done because influencers want to catch up and to level up with the world. Someone in the US can afford a good life and record their videos with no stress, but someone here in Kenya has invested an arm and a leg through borrowing,” explains Dr Kyengo.

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Another factor that contributes to influencers’ desire for attention, according to Dr Kyengo, is past experiences, having felt great highs when they were given accolades and recognition, and craved that feeling and attention over and over again.

“The mind never forgets. Maybe they were given accolades and they felt so good, they would love to do it again. Human beings love to pursue pleasure. Where there is pleasure, the mind tends to even remember 10 times more. That’s why addicts tend to sink deeper into addiction because the mind keeps on saying ‘that thing you gave me, it really felt good, so I want more.’

“Regarding attention and validation, its also all about the rewards. We know right now people are being paid for views. Whatever it takes to get the views, people are going to do it. They will go out of their way to do the awkward things people never expected to see just for the views.

“At the end of the day, they feel there is a reward because the views guarantees the cash. But what have they done to themselves? The internet doesn’t forget. When they grow old, will they really be proud? What will their kids see?” Dr Kyengo opines.

Dr Kyengo also hold the view that the support system around such clout-chasing influencers also worsens the situation by propping them as people who should set standards.

In such instances, because of peer pressure, influencers are ‘influenced’ to record where they are, the cars they own, the dresses they wear, how to do makeup and so forth at the press of a button.

“There is a lot of pressure. And now, there is a lot of comparison too. ‘So and so has done this for their wives. Why aren’t you doing this for me?’ People are learning through the modelling that is there on the many social media apps. The support system around them pressures them to up their standards and if they don’t, they would feel like they are falling short,” Dr Kyengo explains.

But then, with all this clout chasing, how are influencers’ self esteem and mental health affected?

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“Once you start pursuing affirmation from people, validation and you get into a space where you feel grand because you know if you have 100,000 followers, you are dubbed a celebrity. That affects your mind process because you have already branded yourself as a grand ‘something.’ That affects how one (an influencer) does in life.

“They can no longer use a motorbike to work, they’d better buy a car. The self-esteem and mental health of these clout chasing influencers places them in a place/position of overconfidence, grandiose, attention deficit disorder whereby anywhere they go, they must receive the attention,” Dr Kyengo points out.

She further explains that the levels at which these clout-chasing influencers elevated themselves is far from the standard human being to higher levels where they see, live and experience life differently.

“What all this does is to create a vacuum where all other mental health diseases will start stemming from such as addiction and alcoholism. I know of a celebrity who told me they would do weird things on TikTok and for them to do those things, they must have acquired that high.

“Another thing that happens in this vacuum is that now that one sees they are a celebrity, there are certain people they cannot talk to, cannot answer their calls – there is that perception about their life that is tweaked whereby all said and done, it is not for a positive reason. It ends up later on affecting them,” Dr Kyengo observes.

“It’s like going on a high because when they lose that status, they come spiraling downwards. Their mental health is normally threatened because the moment they start feeling they are greater than other people, the more they acquire that social status and they feel they are getting the attention, it means that for them to continue sustaining that lifestyle, they must do the extraordinary.

“That is how you find people coming out confidently saying they are not normal. ‘Oh, I was dating my cousin’ and such things. All these, for a majority, 60 per cent or so, is to get the attention that they would want just for someone to feel ‘I was on social media or I was in a certain radio station,” Dr Kyengo says.

All said and done, despite the pitfalls associated with clout chasing in the influencer world, this behaviour is unlikely to die down soon. The allure of fame, success and validation on social media continues to drive individuals to extreme lengths to attract attention and followers.

As long as social media remains a dominant and influential force in society, the trend of clout chasing will persist with evolving consequences.