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Asia’s ‘influencer farms’ are dystopian, but America isn’t much better

Influencer farms are a multi-billion-dollar industry in Asia. Credit: YouTube

August 22, 2023 - 5:00pm

Over the weekend, online personality Linus Ekenstam shared a video from an Indonesian “influencer farm”. These farms are factory-like — would-be social media stars each stand in individual pods or rooms, with ring lights and smartphones filming content, typically after some period of training. And they’re not small operations, either: hundreds or even thousands of people will occupy these venues, all in the service of creating marketable videos. 

If you thought American influencer culture was creepy with everyone photographing their food or beach trips, then imagine that phenomenon at an industrialised scale. Think call centres, but instead of making a thousand cold calls a day, influencers are creating content with the hopes that viewers will click “add-to-cart”. 

This type of content generation isn’t specific to Indonesia, either: it’s also a well-known tactic in China, where live-streamed e-commerce makes up a multi-billion-dollar industry. Here, Chinese companies have created “influencer incubators” that push out content by social media personalities over eight-hour shifts specifically tailored to go viral at any given moment.

As far as we know, these same types of influencer farms don’t exist (at least, not in the same way) in the United States because, for the most part, they don’t appeal there. While there has been speculation about American viewers being manipulated by tactics like Russian bot farms, insidious, self-esteem-warping filters, unmarked #sponsored content, surreal YouTube content farmers, and more recently AI influencers — all of which suggest a sort of “uncanny valley” of almost but not-quite-human content — mass-produced videos like what Ekenstam describes are yet to be seen in high volume. Yet the US is no less susceptible to consumer trends and, more seriously, propaganda, so why not? 

In the United States, online personalities occupy a unique emotional space. They create an illusion of intimacy between the influencer and users. And while American influencers may be sponsored by corporations, there is a stronger emphasis on the parasocial element of social media content. Well-known examples include the ever-controversial Dylan Mulvaney or Mikayla Nogueira, who frame themselves as “friends-in-waiting”. We’ll take their lipstick recommendations, but we’ll also listen to stories about their sex life — often affording them more time than we would our actual friends. Americans crave a certain unvarnished authenticity, even when it’s completely scripted, as with The Kardashians

This isn’t to say that parasocial relationships between influencers and viewers don’t exist in China: they certainly do (parakin idols, which are meant to emulate family members, being one of the most intense expressions). But the texture is different — they’re more formalised and, therefore, more easily replicable. Where Americans crave at least a veneer of authenticity, in Asia there is a greater hunger for plain content — which is how the likes of 24/7 live-stream entertainers came into being.

It may be tempting to sneer at the dystopian nature of Asia’s influencer farms, but is the faux-intimacy of our social media stars any better? We now live in an increasingly dystopian world in which parasocial relationships with influencers are replacing actual human bonds. With these boundaries becoming ever more blurred, it is difficult to know where our online life starts and our real life ends. This might just be the most disturbing part about it.


Katherine Dee is a writer. To read more of her work, visit defaultfriend.substack.com.

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Right-Wing Hippie
RH
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

What a colossal waste of time social media is. Further evidence for my thesis that the internet was introduced into the world by Satan to drive mankind mad.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago

Deuteronomy 28:28

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
8 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Revelation 18:21-23

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
8 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Revelation 18:21-23

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
8 months ago

I’ll defend the internet the way it existed for about the first decade after it came into public use, but it’s been one long careening downhill slide ever since Facebook. Future historians, assuming there are still people around civilized enough to actually record it and care about it, will probably place social media in dubious company with chemical weapons, torture chambers, telemarketing, and shock therapy as things that should never have been invented, being both unreliable at the tasks they were invented for and contributing greatly to human suffering besides.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Jolly
Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago

Deuteronomy 28:28

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
8 months ago

I’ll defend the internet the way it existed for about the first decade after it came into public use, but it’s been one long careening downhill slide ever since Facebook. Future historians, assuming there are still people around civilized enough to actually record it and care about it, will probably place social media in dubious company with chemical weapons, torture chambers, telemarketing, and shock therapy as things that should never have been invented, being both unreliable at the tasks they were invented for and contributing greatly to human suffering besides.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Jolly
Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

What a colossal waste of time social media is. Further evidence for my thesis that the internet was introduced into the world by Satan to drive mankind mad.

Nik Jewell
NJ
Nik Jewell
8 months ago

AI will replace this soon.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
8 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

AI will produce the content and bots will follow it.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
8 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

AI will produce the content and bots will follow it.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
8 months ago

AI will replace this soon.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
8 months ago

I *knew* this would happen. UnHerd Post writers have all turned into albino mutants, in desperate need of the Omega Man vaccine. All except Noah Carl, who has clearly taken the vaccine already.

Last edited 8 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
8 months ago

I *knew* this would happen. UnHerd Post writers have all turned into albino mutants, in desperate need of the Omega Man vaccine. All except Noah Carl, who has clearly taken the vaccine already.

Last edited 8 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

Got followed around by this creepy Indonesian guy who works in one of these. One of the downsides of having lots of chest hair.

On the plus side, he has suggested products for hair grooming.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

Got followed around by this creepy Indonesian guy who works in one of these. One of the downsides of having lots of chest hair.

On the plus side, he has suggested products for hair grooming.

Thomas Wagner
TW
Thomas Wagner
8 months ago

Apparently there is a whole world out there that I’m not a part of. And that’s just jake with me.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
8 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Wagner

…so far. The problems will start when these people or their followers are the ones running your local shop, or the nearest GP surgery, and you can’t understand the lingo. This will happen, trust me.

Andrew McDonald
AM
Andrew McDonald
8 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Wagner

…so far. The problems will start when these people or their followers are the ones running your local shop, or the nearest GP surgery, and you can’t understand the lingo. This will happen, trust me.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
8 months ago

Apparently there is a whole world out there that I’m not a part of. And that’s just jake with me.