Kiwi influencer Zoe Fuimaono has been attracting attention in recent weeks – and not always the sort the companies associated with her might want.
Fuimaono was criticised after a series of posts to her 63,500 Instagram followers urged them “not to buy into” the Government’s “draconian laws” when the country moved up the Covid alert levels earlier this month.
Fuimaono, 31, who went by Blessed in Doubles on Instagram, told her followers not to get tested if they didn’t want to and undermined the health advice on wearing masks.
“Message your friends who are nurses and doctors and ask them what they think about the community wearing them,” Fuimaono said.
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“They will tell you they won’t work because we won’t use them properly because we aren’t medical professionals.”
Earlier, she had complained about “censorship” of posts about natural immunity to Covid, and said the world had “shut down” over Covid when a larger number of children went missing each year than the number of people who died of the virus.
Countdown and wellness brand Jeuneora stopped working with Fuimaono because, they said, their brands no longer aligned with her.
University of Auckland senior marketing lecturer Michael Lee said Covid-19, and the conspiracy theories that had been flying online about the pandemic, had highlighted the risk companies face when they use influencers to peddle their products.
He said brands needed to distance themselves from influencers who were spreading misinformation because it could reflect poorly on the business’s brand.
“It’s her right to share her opinion, but businesses will also be wary of working with someone whose opinion could cause more harm than good,” Lee said.
“We’ll see more and more of this behaviour from brands as social influencer marketing grows.”
Netsafe experienced a 114 per cent spike in complaints about social media posts and influencers spreading Covid-19 misinformation and fake news when alert levels rose again this month.
Fuimaono defended her comments as “free speech” and claimed she stopped working with Countdown and Jeuneora in July, before her comments last week.
She told her followers working with Countdown and Jeuneora was limiting her right to freedom of speech.
Lee said just as businesses were not allowed to make false or misleading claims, social media influencers who were paid for advertising brands needed to be held accountable.
“Businesses can’t lie and say ‘it’s just my opinion’. Similarly, influencers who make a living off of their large followings should be held responsible for their opinions, which can be damaging.
“We have to reconsider the responsibility influencers have when exercising their freedom of speech because of their large reach,” Lee said.
Massey University senior lecturer in marketing, communications and journalism Catherine Strong said followers needed to be aware that people spreading fake news usually had something to gain from it.
“Either politically or financially it all comes down to following the money. For instance, those who want to keep businesses going would benefit from undermining the lockdown,” Strong said.
Fuimaono has been approached for comment.
Another social media influencer who went by the username Chanel.lavieenrose with more than 34,000 followers posted: “Dictator Jacinda Ardern has decided to postpone the election by four weeks, surprise surprise”.
She went on to say she wanted to see “roading and public transport improve in NZ rather than millions more being poured into funds for Maori and Pacific welfare”.
She has since made her account private.
Last month Kiwi influencers Matilda Green and her husband, Art Green faced a backlash from followers for featuring former My Kitchen Rules co-host and TV chef, Pete Evans.
Last week, Health Minister Chris Hipkins urged New Zealanders to stop spreading unverified rumours, after one particular rumour containing “vile slurs” had “spread like wildfire” on social media during the daily update on recent outbreak.
A Facebook spokeswoman said in the past three months alone, it had removed 7 million posts across Facebook and Instagram globally that contained misinformation including false cures, claims the pandemic did not exist, that it was caused by 5G or that social distancing was ineffective.
Influencer agencies The Social Club and Socialites Group co-chief executive Melanie Spencer said despite the spread of misinformation, influencers were not losing their influence.
Spencer said typically businesses saw 11 times higher return on investment on influencer marketing than traditional marketing.
The Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report 2020 says influencer marketing will grow from $6.5 billion in 2019 to more than $9.7b this year.
Spencer said her influencer agency had strict criteria when selecting influencers for brands.
“There are so many influencers now across the globe and it’s growing so it’s a bit of a jungle out there,” Spencer said.
“Influencers must represent the brand’s values at all times when engaged. We do our homework and our technology gives us in depth information on past activity, both positive and negative.”
She said influencers, like other marketing agencies, had a responsibility to the brands they represented.
“Brands need to distance themselves quickly if their influencer values and messaging does not align.”
Strong said there was concern that the online spread of misinformation could pour out offline.
During the first lockdown more than a dozen cellphone towers, including 3G and 4G installations, were damaged or were burned.
The theory alleged the virus which could be activated by 5G mobile technology, allowing governments to kill people remotely.
“The whole 5G thing seems to be resting upon existing fears about 5G, which don’t seem to be established by any evidence,” Dentith said.
Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker advised concerned followers to report or unfollow influencers.
“Followers have more power than they think. Influencers are who they are because of their followers.
“You’re responsible for what you post on social media. Influencers who choose to post against Government advice, they are morally responsible for the harm they do.”
Cocker said Netsafe would investigate if misinformation contravened the Harmful Digital Communications Act.