Communication, risk and uncertainty
The role of social influencers has shown a marked increase in recent years, as has the number of people who make a living from this profession. Male influencers comment on politics more often than their female counterparts, thus placing themselves in positions of authority. Male influencers tend to emphasise their own professionalism, creativity and the arts, while female influencers often present themselves as friends, placing greater emphasis on community, says Marie Heřmanová of the National Institute for Research on Socioeconomic Impacts of Diseases and Systemic Risks (SYRI). Heřmanová is an expert on the subject of influencers, social media and internet culture at the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
As a researcher for SYRI, Heřmanová will address questions about the role of influencers in political communication. “The Covid-19 pandemic laid bare various symptoms of the information overload with which we are contending,” she explains. “These are related to speed of communication, the impossibility of verifying all information and fact-checking in real time, and emphasis on emotion and identity, all of which are typical for social media.”
As well as analysing the role of influencers, SYRI scientists will provide information applicable for better management of future crises. Among other things, researchers will investigate the spread of various expert and conspiracy contents across the Czech media, how the discourse of traditional media affects communication between influencers and within online communities, and impacts of these discussions on the output and content of traditional media.
Heřmanová’s previous research work has analysed the phenomenon of female spiritual influencers with various esoteric ideas, a phenomenon in many ways related to the pandemic: by creating communities outside of mainstream channels, women were looking for a safe space in society.
“For many women, this was a place where they could address certain doubts – about vaccination, for instance – and be heard with understanding,” the scientist explains. “If they were to express the same idea on Twitter, a lot of people would ridicule them and label them ‘eso-mothers’ or ‘cultists’. In this community, these women feel they have the opportunity to communicate openly and safely. On the other hand, it confirms them in views that overlap with conspiracy theories.”
The principle of spreading conspiracy theories has one thing in common. “The online environment is characterised by the fact that you very quickly find people who perceive the world as you do, people you probably wouldn’t meet in the offline world,” Heřmanová concludes.