Influencers being paid to amplify inauthentic messages to their audience

Building an audience that will reliably read the content you post is difficult (see: every YouTuber asking you to subscribe, like and comment on every video they post). One way to bypass the “build an audience” step of spreading online content is to pay others who have already built an audience to share what you’ve produced.

This has the benefit of saving time, and allowing access to targeted communities (i.e. different influencers have different audience demographics, giving access to more potential targets vs building one audience in-house). It can also make your message appear more authentic to viewers (as it is being by an influencer they trust). While platforms typically require its users to declare when they are producing paid-for content, this rule is not always followed or enforced.

Real World Examples:

Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine

Two investigations look at the same batch of content produced by Russian TikTok influencers during the 2022 invasion of Ukraine:

Influencers reveal they were offered money to spread anti-vaccine content
  • The YouTubers who blew the whistle on an anti-vax plot by Charlie Haynes and Flora Carmichael on 25 Jul 2021
    • A good summary of how people were offered money to spread inauthentic anti-vaccine arguments, why the content was inauthentic, and evidence showing influencers who likely accepted the offer.
  • The anti-vax influencer plot that flopped by Charlie Haynes and Flora Carmichael on 24 Jul 2021
    • This is an 18 minute podcast on the topic by the authors of the above article (if you prefer audio content)

Relevant Content from the Article Archives

DISARM Mapping: T0100.003

This Technique maps to the subtechnique “Co-Opt Influencers (T0100.003)” of “Co-Opt Trusted Sources (T0100)” in DISARM.

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