Young people across Britain are turning to virtual, ‘parasocial’ relationships with influencers to cope with the effects of the pandemic
One-sided relationships, also known as ‘parasocial relationships’, are blossoming in Britain following 18 months of social distancing and lockdowns. A global study by security firm Kaspersky* finds that almost half (48%) of Brits that follow influencers say they offer ‘an escape from reality’, just above the global average of 47%.
During successive global lockdowns, many of us spent long periods at home and turned to virtual companions to replace our lost social lives. This type of one-sided relationship has a strong pull over many lives. In the UK, more than half (58%) of young people (aged 18-34) follow influencers. This figure drops to 15% for 35-55-year-olds and just six per cent for those aged over 55.
Kaspersky finds that influencers have incredible power to shape the lifestyle and viewpoints of their fans. Two thirds (66%) of Britons who follow influencers say that they learn from them, for example, on topics such as health, hobbies, and style. More than a third (35%) of young people that follow online trendsetters say they have been influenced by their style, opinions, and habits. A quarter (25%) of Brits even report having changed their opinion on a certain topic by an influencer.
A third (33%) of Brits who follow influencers have engaged with a post, and more than a quarter (27%) have commented. Around a quarter (24%) of Brits that follow influencers have even met at least one in real life, and 28% say that they have not yet met an influencer in real life but would like to. A very small number of respondents have even gone so far as to send fan art or something they have created to influencers they follow.
For all the benefits that engaging with influencers brings, it is important to strike a healthy balance and remain safe online when using social media, Kaspersky warns.
David Emm, Principal Security Researcher for Kaspersky, commented:
“Although more than half (56%) of people worldwide have been active on social media for more than a decade, many of us are still figuring out how to balance the positives of social media with the negatives,” Emm says.
“Now, we’ve moved into a new era where virtual relationships are becoming the norm. These one-sided relationships can often lead to oversharing on social media, as people look to develop these relationships. However, this can lead to a huge range of negative and unforeseen consequences – hacking and phishing attempts, doxing and bullying, online shaming – the list goes on.
“It is understandable with the lockdowns we’ve all experienced over the past year that people will have gravitated towards online and parasocial relationships to stave off loneliness and boredom, but it’s crucial that people are aware of the consequences of oversharing online and are able to take a more balanced approach.”
Emma Kenny, psychologist and founder of the health and wellbeing social media app, Appy, comments:
“It’s important to be social, but it’s also important to be safe. Young people, in particular, spend huge amounts of time online nowadays, and this connectivity can be so positive and expansive. Being able to connect with others during the pandemic was absolutely crucial for many of us, but balance is key, especially when it comes to parasocial relationships with influencers. It’s important that people are aware of the risks and know how to engage responsibly with influencers so that they can enjoy the incredible benefits of social media and avoid the pitfalls.”
Kaspersky’s research also finds:
- British men (39%) are much more likely to comment on an influencers’ post than women (21%)
- 16% of British men who follow influencers have attended events where they have appeared, compared to just six per cent of women
- Nearly one in five (19%) of all Brits who follow influencers say they feel they could “become good friends” with the influencers they follow
- 21% say that influencers offer them a “relationship I do not have with anyone else”
- Men (21%) are much more likely than women (nine per cent) to report feeling “a sense of absence” if they don’t engage with influencers
Kaspersky’s social media safety tips:
Kaspersky recommends social media users take the following steps to enjoy the many benefits of engaging with influencers and others:
- Be mindful of how much time you spend on social media, which content you consume and how it makes you feel
- Use complex passwords, using capital letters, numbers and special characters where possible. Avoid duplicating them across accounts
- Use password manager software and two-factor authentication for added security, and set up notification alerts
- Be clear on how social media companies use personally identifiable data, and check your privacy settings regularly to make sure they are as secure as possible
- Be vigilant about who can see your content and who can tag you in photos, for example
- Disconnect any third-party apps that you no longer use
- Think before you post: Are you giving away any confidential information about yourself, your employer, or others
- At respectfully always. Would your post cause offence?
Kaspersky has also launched its ‘ShareAware Hub’, where people can find handy tips to help them enjoy social media safely.