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The mystery of the influencer and the Instagrammed motorcycle accident – The Guardian

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Tiffany Mitchell, a Nashville-based influencer, was riding her motorcycle when she misjudged a curve and went off the road. Motorcycle accidents are rarely pretty, but this one was beautiful. By incredible luck the only injuries Mitchell appeared to sustain were aesthetically pleasing grease smudges on her arm. A handsome man was on hand to tend to Mitchell and the entire scene was bathed in soft light, captured on camera and posted on Instagram.

When Mitchell first documented her accident, on 31 July, her followers were largely sympathetic. But then doubt started to set in. Why were Mitchell’s injuries so minor? Why had her helmet been removed straightaway when protocol dictates that, in most circumstances, it should stay on? Why had everything been professionally photographed? And, most suspiciously, why was there an artfully positioned bottle of Smartwater in one of the photographs? Was this horrible accident actually a deliberately staged advert?

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Absolutely not, according to Mitchell. In an article published on Monday, Mitchell told Buzzfeed News that she “would never turn a very important personal story like this into a brand campaign”. She also asked Buzzfeed to refrain from writing a story about the controversy as it would “draw negative attention”. (Someone should probably tell her about the Streisand effect.)

After Buzzfeed’s story came out, Mitchell posted an Instagram story accusing the outlet of “sensationalizing what I went through that day, and making a mockery of the post I shared”. She reiterated that it wasn’t an advert, saying she discloses “every single sponsorship”.

So what the hell is going on? Has Mitchell been unfairly maligned? Or have we now reached the stage of late capitalism where people fake motorcycle accidents in order to increase their social media followers? I’m afraid we may never know the full story, but it should be noted that Smartwater representatives have said they did not have a sponsorship deal with Mitchell.

Perhaps the bigger issue, however, is the fact that we’re even debating whether an Instagrammer staged an accident or not shows just how out of control the influencer industry has become.

During the early days of social media, influencers were the anti-celebrity. People trusted them because they were normal people. They were authentic, and brands loved them because authenticity sells; you’re more likely to buy something endorsed by someone you trust.

But in the last couple of years, we’ve become increasingly disillusioned with social media’s perfectly filtered version of reality and extraordinary amounts of vitriol have been levelled against influencers who help perpetuate the idea that our lives should be picture-perfect.

Last year, for example, a 24-year-old influencer called Scarlett London said she was sent death threats after posting a sponsored photo of her morning routine on Instagram – which apparently consisted of posing on a bed surrounded by heart-shaped balloons. “The best of days start with a smile and positive thoughts,” she gushed in the caption. “And pancakes. And strawberries.”

A man called Nathan took umbrage at the post, tweeting: “Fuck off this is anybody’s normal morning. Instagram is a ridiculous lie factory made to make us all feel inadequate.” The post went viral and Twitter detectives discovered the pancakes were actually dry folded tortillas. Let me tell you: the best of days do not normally start with a stack of dry tortillas.

London is far from the only influencer to have been called out for less-than-authentic depictions of her life. Earlier this year, a vegan influencer called Rawvana was caught eating fish and had to issue a tearful apology after a vicious backlash from her followers. Shortly after, another “vegan” influencer known as Raw Alignment riled the internet by releasing a video confessing that she’d given up veganism months ago. Then there was the New York beauty blogger whose “surprise” marriage proposal appeared to have been meticulously planned and pitched to brands.

And, perhaps most bizarrely, there’s an entire contingent of influencers who try to pretend their posts are sponsored content when they’re not – because being perceived as having brand deals gives them clout.

So there you go: Mitchell might not have been faking anything but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we’re so bombarded with marketing that our first instinct is to suspect that everything, even a motorcycle accident, is an #advert. What matters is that we’re so sick of influencers lying to us about their lives that we don’t believe them even when they’re telling the truth.

If this has got you feeling down about our hellish world, then may I suggest you hydrate? I find taking a sip of highly Instagrammable bottled water is a really effective way to wash away the ennui.

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