It has become impossible to ignore the impact of so-called social media influencers on our day-to-day lives. Even if you don’t have a Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn account, their reach and effect are undeniable.
In an era dominated by fake news, we are constantly searching for truth and authenticity. And yet, naively perhaps, I was still surprised to learn that even some of the most apparently down-to-earth influencers cannot be trusted.
A robust due diligence process can prevent any embarrassment that may come from working with these individuals before you sign on the dotted line. But we’ll come back to that.
The BBC recently aired a documentary focusing on Belle Gibson, an Australian “super influencer” who spun her hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers a terrible lie. She claimed that she had made a miraculous recovery from an inoperable, malignant brain tumour through healthy eating alone and convinced her followers that they could do the same. The truth: she never had cancer in the first place.
On the surface, setting aside the horrible deceit, you may be forgiven for thinking that there was no harm done. After all, aren’t eating healthy food and following a good lifestyle recommended by medical professionals? But the reality was that Gibson had become an inspiration to others who were struggling to overcome cancer and other diseases. By reading her posts on healthy eating, they were encouraged to ditch their prescribed medication in favour of “wellness”. While Gibson appeared to be miraculously getting better, her followers were increasingly becoming sick. The scam was starting to put lives at risk.
And while she was perpetuating the lie, Gibson took advantage of the enormous publicity her miracle attracted by building her own wellness empire, tapping into a share of a market said to be worth almost £3 trillion worldwide.
But Gibson didn’t just cause harm to her followers. She picked up lucrative deals with Apple and Penguin Publishing to produce an app and a cookbook, The Whole Pantry, which took the lie to another level.
No proper due diligence into Gibson’s medical claims or indeed her past life, where she was also known to peddle fantasies, was ever conducted by these organisations.
But work by investigative journalists digging into Gibson’s background got to the bottom of the story and exposed the scam. InsightX understands the importance of this type of journalism and as such ensures that it is a significant aspect of our due diligence process. This is what sets us apart from other due diligence organisations who just scratch the surface.
Gibson has since gone underground having been fined £240,000 in 2017 by the Australian Government for misleading followers about her charitable donations and being found guilty of five breaches of consumer law. The fine remains unpaid so in May of this year the authorities began to seize Gibson’s assets.
Meanwhile, Apple and Penguin found themselves exposed to reputational damage from adverse media coverage.
Apple has remained silent about the partnership with Gibson and refuses to comment publicly having previously actively promoted her around the globe.
Penguin was fined $30,000 for failing to do its due diligence and check Gibson’s claims about curing herself of cancer before publishing the book.
The Belle Gibson scandal is not a one-off: there are countless other examples of influencers scamming their followers and endorsers and the damage can be huge.
But there is a solution: You can avoid or mitigate this kind of damage by doing your due diligence before signing a deal with an influencer. For the rest of us, the watch phrase has to be “don’t always believe what you see”.
InsightX can help you avoid this kind of scandal. We have unrivalled research capabilities covering social, online and traditional media in more than 40 languages. We also use a network of experienced journalists across the world to investigate and verify background information and perform manual inquiries if necessary.
Contact us at email@example.com to find out more