Earlier this week I had mistakenly posted on Instagram that everyone should buy a nonstick pan when I really meant stainless steel. I later corrected it after a friend pointed it out and thankfully, I heard from a handful of others who saw the post that they thought I was just joking. I wonder how many silent others actually got a nonstick pan (none I hope). I wonder who among my silent viewers and readers has used a specific technique or ingredient because of something I said or did and out of those, how many times was I wrong? How many times was I not questioned purely because of the cooking “authority” I’ve slowly built over the years? Argumentum ad verecundiam.
I wonder sometimes how much of our seemingly “independent” actions are based on the unexamined influencing of the Influencers. Certainly the vast majority are just benignly peddling more stuff for us to buy by way of sponsored posts and follow-me-for-free-prizes contests but the effects can’t be ignored: cult diets, obsessive lifestyle designing, the misguided idea that we aren’t optimal beings without some specific regimen priced at the low subscription of $29 a month.
This is not a post against experts who’ve put in the necessary work to truly explore their craft and all the hard questions and humility that come with it. Nor is this a railing against the more blatant snake oil salesmen around us who rely on complete lies. Rather, this is a word of caution on the Accidental Influencers: regular people whose authority lies in follower counts or engagement metrics, experts in one field who somehow also get Influencer status in a field they know nothing about, beginners like myself who sometimes are promoted too soon.
Just last week, my father who is arguably an expert in personal finance after over four decades of experience, deigned to make knowledgeable-sounding but dangerous comments of how quarantines can be lifted in his community. The posts got dozens of shares despite his degree in epidemiology only being a few weeks old and I shudder to think of some elderly lady looking for solace in the comments section leaving her house with a false sense of security. I’m extremely self-conscious of the things I may inadvertently influencing others to say or do and I don’t think the fact that “people are free to decide for themselves” absolves us of all responsibility.
The questions worth asking in this digital age are: are you an Accidental Influencer? Do you know what you’re inadvertently Influencing others to do?