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  • Gina Kalsi

Elle Darby and Molly-Mae: Is It Time Up For The Influencers We Know Nothing About?

Being an influencer is a relatively new career which came into being around 2009, but really took off in 2014-2015. One may ask, what is an influencer? And the truth is, it is simply a person whose image is their brand. They make their shockingly high income by selling #ad products to their audience, and stating that they themselves use these products.

Although they market themselves as friendly, relatable and ‘totally just like you!’... newsflash, they aren’t. Behind those artificially whitened smiles are individuals who will never be like you. This has come to light after Elle Darby and Molly-Mae Hague landed themselves in hot water with their audiences, but for completely different reasons. However, they both pose the same question: is there a dark side to influencing?

Elle Darby

Elle Darby is a 26-year-old full-time influencer, and her main platform of success is her YouTube channel. However, when highly offensive tweets from 2011 emerged, some who had followed her for years were left wondering who she even was, myself included.

Some of the tweets said:

‘I just hate polish people and indians really’

‘This bus is sweaty and stinks of indians’

‘Give dirty looks to fat people. It makes them realise people hate them so they lose weight, saving them from heart attacks’ quotes mum.’

‘I really miss my laptop. Wish that effin charger from HK (Hong Kong) would hurry up. Come on ch***s, you're upsetting me’

I am an Indian woman. I subscribed to Elle Darby. I watched her YouTube videos, and when I found these tweets, I was disgusted. I was angry for allowing myself to follow someone like this. She didn’t know I existed; a classic example of how toxic parasocial relationships can be. They are completely one-sided.

Whilst her fans bought her products to help her business, commented on her posts and took time out of their day to watch her videos, they idolised someone they didn’t even know. At the same time, parasocial relationships mean that influencers may see their fans as numbers, not necessarily as sentient beings.

People took to Twitter to display how abnormal her behaviour was, as there were some fans defending her by saying that she was ‘just a child’ when she put out those tweets—she was 15 years old.

In her YouTube apology video (let’s face it, most influencers have made or will probably make one at some point), she said:

“I just want to say once again, I am sorry. In terms of my next steps, I am going to be taking a little bit of time offline just to further reflect on everything that’s happened and to process a situation that I don’t think I am ever going to really forgive myself for.”

However, this ‘apology’ video was criticised on Twitter for being insincere. Fans pointed out that Darby didn’t address the people she hurt and acknowledge why and how her tweets were hurtful, but rather just kept saying ‘I’m sorry’ several times in the video.

Another power that influencers hold over their followers is the ability of communication. Darby was criticised for disabling comments on her apology video on YouTube, which angered her followers. Whilst these features on websites are meant to prevent ‘trolling’, should it go as far as to prevent holding individuals to account? Should the parasocial relationship that influencers have with their online fans mean that the influencer gets to control their narrative by disabling comments? The people who supported her and gave her a platform are now being silenced to save her reputation.

Molly-Mae Hague

Next up is ‘girlboss’ influencer Molly-Mae Hague. The 22-year-old found fame after appearing on a popular television show, Love Island. In her interview on YouTube channel ‘Diary of a CEO’ hosted by Steven Bartlett, she remarked:

“Beyonce has the same 24 hours in a day that we do. I just think that you are given one life and it’s down to you what you do with it, you can literally go in any direction.

“I understand that obviously we all have different backgrounds and we’re all raised in different ways and we do have different financial situations, but I think if you want something enough, you can achieve it.”

Before this, in 2021, Hague signed a seven-figure deal and became creative director of fast fashion brand Pretty Little Thing, known for their 1p sales. Whilst she is banking her millions, an undercover reporter for the Sunday Times in 2020 found that Leicester PLT factory staff were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour, when the the minimum wage in Britain for those aged 23 and over is £8.91. This does not even take into account what they are paying their sweatshop workers in developing nations.

Some say ignorance is bliss, but when you are in the public eye as a literal influencer, it is your duty to educate yourself on the inequalities that occur in this harsh world. Molly-Mae Hague is not aware of how privileged she is. Instead, she is spreading the ‘Thatcherite’ narrative that if you work hard enough, you can get there. There are many things wrong with these statements—this concept simply is not accessible for everyone. For many people, it’s often not as easy as “working hard enough” and it’s high time that people like Molly-Mae understood this.

Obviously, any hatred or trolling towards Molly-Mae is unacceptable, as she is still a human being with feelings. But it is important to realise the impact that influencers can have on individuals.

Her manager has also claimed that she turned down a £2 million deal with a fashion brand when she came out of the Love Island villa because she didn’t wear the clothes. Has influencing spiralled so far out of control that we are meant to praise an influencer for being honest? Especially one who considers herself to be a relatable ‘girlboss’.

It’s clear that the world of influencing and influencers remains unsafe, due to the sheer number of young people who watch strangers on the internet and idolise them. It’s important to question whether or not influencers should be allowed to be role models to the younger generation when, as has been proven time and time again, they themselves cannot take responsibility for their mistakes.

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