As someone whose primary career is in digital media, I’m no stranger to losing my job suddenly and without warning. Luckily, with a layoff comes severance, and a portfolio of work I can use to land my next gig. It’s not like everything I’ve ever done disappears without a trace.
The same cannot be said for influencers.
On Monday, October 4, a Facebook outage caused affiliated apps like What’s App and Instagram to go dark. Not only was this outage unexpected, but nobody could really say when it would get fixed. Even Facebook itself appeared a little baffled by what had gone wrong. I seriously wondered for a moment if this was the social media apocalypse. For me, this would just mean I would need to find something else to scroll when I was bored in my apartment. For influencers, this would mean the end of their career as they know it—without any evidence of anything to show for it.
In big and small ways, content creators are used to adapting and pivoting at a moment’s notice thanks to the whims of social media companies and their algorithms. But nobody dares speak about the elephant-sized worry in the room: What if it just goes away?
US creators had to reckon with a similar armageddon last summer when threats of a TikTok ban loomed. More than once, creators on the app were scrambling, directing people to their other platforms like YouTube and Instagram when it appeared the ban would go into effect at any moment. But herding your followers to yet another platform that could easily disappear addresses only the symptom of a much bigger problem: Those who build their careers online put their entire livelihoods in the hands of social media companies. The least they’re owed is a safety net back.
Successful Instagram influencers are walking billboards for the platform. While the tools provided by Instagram allow them to make money, their money-making hinges on their ability to bring audiences to the app over and over again. It’s a win-win for Instagram, and they should look into returning the favor.
In an ideal world, this would mean social media influencers could get some sort of payout for any business lost during outages, or perhaps some kind of guaranteed severance in the event that their primary platform disappears. Already, the mechanisms for this relationship are being built, with everyone from TikTok to Pinterest to Instagram investing in creator funds to pay their influencers directly. But if we want to unlock the next level of giving content creators the respect of other professions, that means building safety nets for if (dare I say when?) it all goes away.