Kim Kardashian Has Achieved Peak Pandemic Backlash
Pretty much the only thing that soothed me during the first few weeks of the pandemic was being able to get on the internet and know that we were all in this together. I watched countless YouTube videos of creators vlogging their way through quarantine, admired the tie-dye sweatsuits everyone was wearing on Instagram, and watched more TikToks than I can count of people suddenly thrust back into the same house as their families trying to navigate this new normal. It really, genuinely, made me feel less alone.
Then, one by one, things started to fracture. A TikTok house went on vacation to Mexico. Influencers were spotted at parties. Kim Kardashian took her entire family to a private island. Meanwhile, the rest of us sheltered in place.
After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time. pic.twitter.com/cIFP7Nv5bV— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) October 27, 2020
More often than not, we follow influencers on social media because there’s something about their lives we find enviable. Arielle Charnas and Kim Kardashian built their brands by giving normal people a glimpse into a lifestyle that’s likely unattainable for us. In pre-pandemic times, this was snarkable, for sure, but easier to stomach, because they’re living their lives and we’re living ours. Now, they’re living their lives and we’re still waiting for ours to come back.
The tide started turning on privileged influencers earlier this year, when there was backlash to Charnas and blogger Naomi Davis for escaping New York City to ride out the pandemic in the Hamptons and Arizona, respectively. Now, not a day goes by when a user on r/blogsnark isn’t pointing out another influencer who is throwing a party, traveling recklessly, or not wearing a mask in public. These influencers may live in a bubble, but it doesn’t stop Covid-19, and despite any schadenfreude that might result from it, it’s bad news for all of us if another person catches the virus when the U.S. is seeing new peaks in the pandemic.
Coronavirus has put the weaknesses in our society into sharp focus. Unemployment, housing, and healthcare have always been a problem, but for many people, this year was the first time we saw all these systems fail on such a massive scale. The fact that the same country, on the same day, has people unable to afford healthcare during a pandemic and Kim Kardashian using her money to pay for mass testing and safety protocols so her family can go to an island is stomach-churning. What’s the use of an influencer in a global crisis if they’re using their platform to further this divide, not help bridge it?
One by one, creators that flaunt their privilege are seeing their audiences erode. Whether it’s their pandemic behavior, response to Black Lives Matter, or silence during the election, followers are less and less comfortable giving platforms to people who don’t use them responsibly. According to SocialBlade, Charnas is averaging a loss of 400 followers a day, with -12,000 total this month. Davis lost around 2,000 this month. Even Kardashian, who has remained untouchable through controversy after controversy, has seen a decline in monthly gained followers since May.
This isn’t to say that people like Kardashian or even Charnas will disappear. There will always be people who follow them who aren’t bothered by the inequality they highlight (or who hate-follow them instead). But this is an opportunity for a new type of influencer to rise: Someone who is admired for how they engage with the problems of the world, not how they build walls of money to shield themselves from them. And, yes, someone who probably has nice clothes and make-up, too. We’re still human, after all.