Do influencers have an obligation to 'influence' us?

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Media is an influencer and responsible journalists and platforms understand their obligations rather well.

With great power comes great responsibility, and the so-called social media influencers today must wield that power with due caution. In early July, a Danish Instagram influencer (337K followers) posted a suicide note on her account before attempting the act. She was saved and is getting the help she needs, but imagine the impact of the disturbing note on her impressionable followers? The note received 30,000 likes before it was taken down in two days!

Media is an influencer and responsible journalists and platforms understand their obligations rather well. For those that don't, there's collective newsroom wisdom (and academic courses) that lay down that burden in black and white. In the era of social media influencers, however, you'll hardly find an indexed list of schools that can drill down such wisdom. And, by custom, digital influencers work independently, which leaves collective wisdom out of the equation. So, do they have a social responsibility to share the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? The concept gets a little more complicated if we peel the layers of affectation and ask the basic question: Must influencers try to influence? As in, do they have a moral obligation to influence?

The other day, we had the privilege of welcoming Shekhar Kapur into KT headquarters for a quick chat on the role he's playing for Expo 2020 Dubai. Yes, the Shekhar Kapur, filmmaker of Elizabeth, Bandit Queen, Mr India and Masoom fame is now an advisor to Expo 2020. That's another Dubai masterstroke, isn't it? Anyway, I digress. So, the conversation veered to the point where this very question was posed: Must influencers influence? And he answered it very humbly, saying that it is indeed the responsibility of influencers to stand up for things they strongly believe in. "It's a gift," he said "that we have received. And we must use it for creating a positive impact."

Kapur, clearly, falls in the bracket of responsible influencers, even as there remains the notorious kind out there. If you do have the gift of hundreds of thousands of individuals 'following' you on social media, then you better 'lead' them to a nice place and not ditch them mid-way to the land of effulgence

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