An Influencer most broadly is “a person or thing that influences,” though more specifically is labeled “a person who has the power to influence many people, as through social media or traditional media.” In drawing the line between an influencer and the influenced, I would define a public figure as: anyone who has followers that not only consists of their personal connections or even far-reaching connections. In considering my own personal Instagram of 10.2k followers I personally know of less than 2% of my followers, the other 98% are people I’ve never met or interacted with on a personal basis.
This concept of a ‘public figure’ some might argue has morphed into meaning someone who is considered a ‘social media personality’ through their social media content. In regard to the trend of brand companies targeting these ‘micro-influencers’ the data, which demonstrates a statistically significant trend of consumers trusting and placing peer recommendations much higher than traditional forms of advertising, states that only 33% of consumers trust ads but 90% trust peer to peer advertising (Business Insider). Companies are now able to micro-target and precisely define their online audience by connecting with influencers that directly impact a specific subgroup in their reach.
According to a Nielsen survey which measured the trust consumers have in a variety of ad structures, “Ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising—an increase of 18 percent since 2007… Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising with 70 percent of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust this platform, an increase of 15 percent in four years.”
This transformation of the concept of a ‘public figure’ is significant, wherein 2015 these influencers could maybe pull in $100,000 for an entire year’s worth of advertising work can profit the same just a year later in 2016 for a single social media post if their reach is large enough like YouTube personality Tyler Oakley, or capture a primetime television show like personalities Hannah Hart and Grace Helbig.
Madison Harwell, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2017 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the prompt:
As you’ve been reading cases this week, you may have noticed that the rules for defamation are different for private and public figures. That’s why tabloids can get away with saying crazy things about the Kardashians, even though we know they’re just a made-up family who is not actually biologically related. But the world is changing. More and more people are gaining recognition as influencers on social media. Brand companies are now targeting micro-influencers to push product as people tend to trust recommendations from their friends instead of people with huge followings. All of this is to say that it seems that what constitutes as a public figure today is not the same as what would constitute as a public figure 20 years ago. But obviously, not everyone with a twitter account is a public figure… or are they? Where do we draw a line? Define a public figure.