Have You Heard About … Reddit Vs. Your Favourite Influencers

May 2, 2024

Mahsa Di Placito is host of one of our favourite pop-culture podcasts, Have You Heard About…, and we’ve signed her on to write a column for Vita Daily! In her column, she’ll break down notable moments in culture and why they matter. For more detailed analyses about influencers and the business of influencing, catch up on the podcast here and follow along on Instagram.

I’ll be honest, my interest in the influencer economy lies mostly in the culture of it all. I’m far more interested in why we develop parasocial relationships with our favourite online creators vs. being interested in the products they’re promoting, or the extravagant kids party fully curated for the ‘gram. I’ll admit this wasn’t always the case. When Instagram first took off, I followed plenty of accounts with overtly precious names like ‘peonies and lavender’ (not a real account, but you get the gist). I was a new first-time mom, and motherhood was such a heavy load mentally that it was easier to adopt the aesthetics of what being a ‘good’ mother looked like, than tackle the enormity of the day-to-day load. So, I bought the chic diaper bag and adorable crib sheets in an effort to at least look the part. By the time I had my second kid, and especially my third during Covid, I was very much over it. On top of scheduling activities and playdates, finding childcare, and maintaining my own mental well-being, I could care less about yet another product that looked cute but wouldn’t make the job of motherhood any easier. In fact, I find it surprising that over a decade after the rise of the OG influencers 1.0 (you know the prototype: white shaker cabinets, farmhouse sinks, fresh flowers, effortlessly easy sundresses), little has changed in their content. In contrast with how quickly the world seemed to be changing post-Covid, I wondered about the longevity and relevancy of the accounts that seemed to be stuck in the perfect grid aesthetic of the early 2010’s. Turns out, I’m not the only one.

A few months ago, a friend alerted me to a series of stories Canadian influencer and former ‘Bachelorette’ star Jillian Harris had posted. In it, she explains she was recently made aware of a subreddit devoted simply to snarking on her. Listen, with 1.4 million followers, this is inevitable and not surprising. What was surprising though, was her publicly acknowledging it by alerting all her followers to its presence, and doubling down to dismiss all their ‘snark’ as people being hateful and ‘bullying.’ While some of the commentary is below the belt stuff I’d never condone, much of it is thoughtful feedback and consideration from former and current followers. Speculating about marriages, kids, bodies, and the way someone looks should be totally off limits, and takes away from more productive conversations around consumerism, waste, harmful parasocial relationships and authenticity. While you could argue kids and how someone mothers is fair game given it’s part of their brand and content, I strongly disagree. Kids can’t consent to any of this; even if they agree, there is no way a child can fully understand the implications of living their lives in front of an online audience.

I also want to be clear to acknowledge that influencing is real work, and there is an art to doing it well. Influencers run a business that is wholly dependent on whether the public likes and trusts them; they are keen editors, photographers, and tastemakers. They know how to negotiate contracts with brands, and promote things in ways that can seem effortless. But this is my point. Their work is performed in a fully public sphere, and their clientele is their following. It’s easy to dismiss constructive criticism as ‘keyboard warriors’ or ‘women who don’t support other women.’ I agree that if you don’t like following someone or their values don’t align with yours, you can simply unfollow. But influencers have had such a significant impact on our culture that it’s prudent to explore the criticism; not to drag them down, but to consider what that says about our own changing values and beliefs. So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about what’s happening on Reddit right now.

If any influencer is big enough, they most certainly will have a subreddit snark account devoted to them. Canadian examples include the above mentioned Jillian Harris, Sarah Nicole Landry (The Birds Papaya), and Alicia Mccarvell. All these influencers have over a million followers, so some snark is inevitable, and has existed since influencers themselves existed (old school fans of GOMI would know this!) I spent a few weeks sifting through the subreddits to get a better sense of why people were so mad, and what I found surprised me. Turns out, these subs aren’t made up of keyboard warriors with simply nothing better to do than hate on self-made women, but the majority are former fans and followers who have quite literally bought what influencers have been selling for years, until they started questioning what value the return was. Consumerism and fast-fashion, inauthenticity, leveraging kids as content, and the coded MLM shades of the sheer sell emerged as the biggest offenders.

Some users explained they originally loved following influencers for the more unique, local businesses they would spotlight. But with the lucrative promise of Amazon’s influencer Program, many of these products were replaced with cheap knock-offs and many affiliate links. As one Reddit user puts it, “I used to be a fan [of Jillian’s], started following post Bachelorette days and then it was because she was semi local so she often had ideas for things to do around BC or introduce us to shops/products in BC. Then slowly, it just became affiliate links, and buy this or that. It doesn’t seem like thoughtful or genuine recommendations.” This sentiment was echoed by dozens of others. If you could simply search Amazon for the same products that were neither unique or supporting local economies, what was the point`? On the waste, one user pointed out “It bothers me when you see how many free products are stacked on porches for them to promote… it is so wasteful.”

Authenticity is a key pillar when it comes to parasocial relationships. Influencers act almost as online friends who live in our phones. We lend trust to them when it comes to what to buy, how to dress, and keep up with what’s trendy. I reached out to an influencer friend who I respect to ask how she tows the line of authenticity. Given influencing is a very small circle, we agreed anonymity here is best. She explains, “I think relatability and authenticity is key as an influencer. People connect with that so much and that’s how you build trust. I view the people who choose to follow along as a community and often reach out to them for suggestions and advice. It’s how I learn what to offer. Influencing can be a two way street – it’s much more fun that way!” I’ll add that first hand, I can see the value she offers her followers. She practices what she preaches, gives honest reviews, and doesn’t promote anything that doesn’t align with her personally. Her main source of income isn’t influencing, and she credits part of that with being able to stay as authentic as possible. Reddit user Jenny B. notes, “Their lifestyles are so self-inflicted with hectic and chaotic party throwing, then they turn it around to complain to followers about how exhausted they are. Yes, it seems very tiring trying to make your life interesting and find an angle to sell 24/7. Here’s a thought, give us some substance. Have something tangible to offer people rather than shame them for using critical thinking on Reddit.”

When I reached out to my own Instagram community of podcast listeners to gain a better understanding of how they gain value from influencers, the answers echoed the sentiments above. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, and there is value if you know what you’re looking for. People cited influencers who would lend their expertise to better inform followers on topics ranging from perimenopause, women’s health, gardening, veganism, disability, infertility, motherhood outside of the traditional nuclear family, and so much more. Most people were no longer interested in the voyeuristic nature of watching a family’s luxury vacation, or home tips they could never afford. One Reddit user remarked, “I followed influencers because I felt they were genuine and offered inspiring decor ideas. They had the occasional promotion which I understood because it’s a business. However, as time went on, it’s all… ads. They are often sneaky and hidden in different ways, and you can never tell if they genuinely think a product is great or they’re just making money off you. Finally, you see so many vulnerable people following and buying products when they can’t afford to pay their electricity bills. It’s horrific they are led to believe you can have a similar lifestyle if you buy these products. That’s why I began going to snark pages, I wanted to see if others felt the way I did.”

Beyond the follower-influencer relationship, there’s the end cost of small businesses to consider. Many big influencers trade exposure for deeply discounted products and services, but that doesn’t always yield the positive results one might expect. In speaking with three different small brands anonymously, it often tends to be a drain on their resources. Either by gifting product they’ll never see a return on, building up inventory debt by participating in subscription boxes, or by deeply discounting their inventory as a one-time offer, without being able to retain returning customers who many times expect the original, lower price. As consumers, it’s a good reminder than we can and should buy direct where possible; these brands are rarely paid wholesale prices to participate and exposure isn’t a one way street to success.

I fully understand the knee-jerk reaction to reading a subreddit dedicated to deconstructing your brand, and acknowledge some of it is harsh and unnecessary. But even a cursory glance would reveal most commentary isn’t malicious, but rather former fans trying to make sense of  complicated, changing parasocial relationships. If I was an influencer with a million plus followers, I would consider this free market research! The pitfall of building a business entirely through social media channels is you can simply block what you don’t like and deny accountability, shutting out valuable diverse voices and commentary that could drive relevancy in the long run. Ultimately, the algorithm will do what it does best; figure out if people still care. —Mahsa Di Placito


  1. Adele

    May 4th, 2024 at 9:51 am

    Masha, you captured this issue wonderfully. Personally I’ve found since you started talking about this and recommended reading Momfluenced, I’ve taken a much more critical look at who I’m following and how they make me feel. I appreciate your insight!

  2. April Besth

    May 4th, 2024 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you for writing such a thoughtful, insightful piece! I enjoy your opinions on influencers culture. You truly giving us a clear perspective! It’s hard to speak up, name-names…appreciate your openness & vulnerability discussing this polarizing influencer culture.
    I see through their ads, marketing, angles, fake scenarios to sell wellness, affiliate links …not sure why other “follower’s” don’t?

  3. Sarah

    May 6th, 2024 at 6:21 pm

    Hi Masha,

    Thank you for this fantastic article. You’ve captured my thoughts on the topic perfectly. I work as a therapist in private practice in Ontario, and I’m working on developing a series on this exact topic, with a bit of a deeper dive into the psychology of it all. Let me know if you’d be open collaborating and discussing further.



  4. Amanda

    May 10th, 2024 at 11:21 am

    Fantastic article! I’m glad this is being talked about more.

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