Not long ago, the word “influencer” conjured visions of make-up tutorials, street style fashion, far-flung travel locations — and yes, more than a few groans. But in the rapidly evolving social norms of the coronavirus pandemic, the role of the millennial influencer is taking on a new, important responsibility.
On Thursday morning, Surgeon General Jerome Adams appeared on “Good Morning America” to discuss the outbreak. “We need to get Kylie Jenner and social media influencers out there in helping folks understand that, “Look, this is serious. This is absolutely serious. People are dying,” Adams said on the ABC show.
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As the pandemic unfolds, the role of millennials has come under increasing scrutiny. At the White House daily briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Deborah Birx pointed to the demographic as being at a higher risk of catching the virus, as they have been less likely to follow social distancing and quarantine guidelines. “There are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about some young people getting seriously ill, and very seriously ill, in the ICU,” she said. The alert came after alarming photos surfaced of spring breakers packing Florida beaches.
Adams’s call for Jenner and other social stars to spread the word about the seriousness of the coronavirus highlights a growing sense of responsibility being placed on influencers — especially those in the millennial demographic with audiences in the multimillions. While Jenner, who currently has 166.5 million followers, has not been posting anything regarding the pandemic on her Instagram grid, she has used Stories to raise awareness. “Another daily reminder to take this social distancing seriously and self-quarantine,” Jenner wrote in a story posted on Wednesday. “I’m on day 8,” she said in subsequent story.
Elsewhere, models like Bella Hadid have used Instagram to post messages about social distancing, as well as express gratitude to health-care workers and outline information on places where people can donate medical supplies and food. “As healthy young people, social distancing is not about you personally,” Hadid wrote in a post on March 16. “It’s not a time to be selfish, but to be thoughtful and aware of those with immune systems that are more prone to contracting [COVID-19].” Hadid has also refrained from attending any events or gatherings and was last seen in public on March 12, when she carried a suitcase out of her Manhattan apartment.
In Italy, Chiara Ferragni has leaned into the efforts to battle the pandemic there, raising more than 4 million euros ($4.3 million) with musician husband Fedez and continuously posting content on life in self-quarantine. She has also hosted live streaming shows in isolation with Fedez and other musicians like Emma Marrone and even Andrea Boccelli. “From a huge voice comes huge responsibility,” she wrote in a March 12 Instagram post on the outbreak in Italy.
But not all influencer responses have been met with praise. When Arielle Charnas posted on her Instagram stories that she was able to obtain a COVID-19 test in hard-hit New York, social media users like Diet Prada deemed it “what privilege looks like in the age of coronavirus.” Charnas announced on Wednesday that she tested positive for the virus and has since limited her posts to daily updates on her health and time spent with her family. “I acknowledge how lucky I am to have had that access,” Charnas wrote about obtaining a test. “I hope this ignites faster movement in the future.”
The role of the influencer as a content authority has dominated conversation during the past few years at a time when these figures hold the mass audiences once traditionally held only by news outlets. But as the virus continues to make its way through the United States, communication will be key from any brand name, whether it’s CNN or, yes, Kylie Jenner. When it’s all hands on deck, these celebs can make a difference that saves lives.
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