These Influencers Promoted Literal Poison to Their Followers

The rise of the influencer over the last decade has produced a new breed of celebrity: one with a direct line of communication to a vast, passionately loyal audience. It was only a matter of time before brands started tapping up these new tastemakers to make some money, and influencer marketing has swiftly become another perfectly ordinary way of doing business.

It’s become a running joke that a great number of Insta celebs will take a paycheque from pretty much anybody, making lazy sponcon (sponsored content) and slapping “#ad” on the post to avoid crossing the Federal Trade Commission. The products and advice relating to weight loss and wellness in particular have come under scrutiny from experts, begging the question: would an influencer put their name to a product that is actively harmful?

This week, Irish performer and satirist Blindboy Boatclub decided to test out just how uncritical some influencers are of the products they flog on their platforms. In a segment of his BBC program Blindboy Undestroys the World, he selected three British celebrities who got their break on reality TV before making the natural progression to Instagram personalities: Zara Holland from the dating phenomenon Love Island, and Mike Hassini and Lauren Goodger from structured reality show The Only Way Is Essex.

Each of these influencers with a fictitious product: a beverage called Cyanora, which included packaging prominently featuring an unusual ingredient: hydrogen cyanide. They were also told they would be unable to try the product themselves prior to its official launch, but that they were welcome to post content about it to their social media channels.

“We were very transparent,” Blindboy says in his narration of the show. “The product was clearly labeled hydrogen cyanide, and we wanted to see if they would consider selling it to their fans, which would kill them.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all three influencers created videos for the product, even mentioning the ingredient hydrogen cyanide by name. Once the satirical nature of the program was revealed, they released statements trying to mitigate the damage — but they had already inadvertently exposed how little due diligence can go into vetting a product before putting it out onto the timeline.

“Although I had read out the ingredients which included Hydrogen Cyanide, I did not immediately know what this was at the time,” reads Holland’s statement. “My agent did state that I would not promote a product without trying it first, and we needed to be provided with more detail.”

“I’d like to say that I would’ve been [surprised] but I kind of knew that they’d come back and be happy to sell this stuff,” Blindboy told the BBC. “Social media space at the moment is currently an unregulated wild west.”

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