Opinion

Daryl Aiden Yow is just one of many influencers ‘doing things the wrong way’

The burgeoning but unregulated influencer industry is a little like the Wild West, a place sometimes without ethics or standards, where bad behaviour has indirectly been rewarded by brands - writes Maureen Tseng

Everybody is having a field day with the Singapore influencer Daryl Aiden Yow.

Ever since Mothership outed the Instagrammer and self-proclaimed photographer for taking stock photo images, doctoring them and heavily implying they were his own, the barbs have been coming in thick and fast from all quarters.

Daryl Aiden Yow in action

Fellow influencers have weighed in with articles and comments. Dailies including The Straits Times, Channel News Asia and even the BBC have reported on the saga. The public relations debacle has even spawned the hashtag #darylaidenchallenge, a parody feed that currently has over 600 wittily ‘photoshopped’ pictures featuring anyone and anything on popular stock images.  

Meanwhile, beyond his fans and 100,000+ followers, Daryl counted A-list brands like Sony, Uniqlo, Issey Miyake and Colgate as his corporate sponsors. Sony was quick to express “surprise and disappointment with what has been reported and is looking into the matter”. Uniqlo confirmed that they have worked with Daryl. Other sponsors have declined to comment.

Things aren’t looking pretty.

Daryl has since issued an apology on his Instagram feed – the only image that now remains on the account. Indeed, given the storm he’s created, Daryl is probably hiding under a rock until this all blows over. Many photographers and influencers that I know would likely be quite dismissive if they chanced upon him in the flesh. But honestly, I feel a little sorry for the guy despite the fact he has been doing things the wrong way.

Of course the internet is by its very nature a fickle beast and it won’t be long before attention has turned to the next big scandal in the court of public opinion. However, the incident has raised a number of important questions.

Should influencers abide by a general code of ethics? What can influencers do to assure now cautious companies that they will be representing their brands responsibly and professionally? Is there a future for Daryl Aiden Yow, given all that’s transpired?

The burgeoning but unregulated influencer industry is a little like the Wild West. While there are highly reputable opinion leaders, who abide by their own strict ethical codes, many subscribe to an ‘anything goes to get more followers and fans’ philosophy. The pressure to please their fans and to up the ante is real.

Influencers with the largest fan bases are like demi-gods and incident like this are just one of many that speaks to the lengths that influencers go to build and maintain their following. The instagrammer, who blew US$10,000 for the perfect travel Instagram photo or video or even more tragically the social media celebrity who commited suicide because of a flagging fan base are just some of the more extreme cases that have made it into the news.

Indeed, industry watchers tell me that Daryl is just one of many guilty of this type of thing. He was just unfortunate to be the first one to be exposed.  

The basic premise of the internet when it was first developed was that it would be a self-regulating entity, where the wrong-doers would eventually be weeded out by the collective community. This recent exposé has in fact done just that, with fans in a state of disbelief that they didn’t spot all the tell-tale signs of “photoshopping” in action. And the keyboard vigilantes are certainly out in full force.

The silver lining to this whole saga is that it’s a great wake-up call for influencers to be more vigilant in maintaining professional and ethical standards. Similarly, companies will now be more cautious in vetting the influencers that they work with. Developing and subscribing to a standards-based code of ethics may be quite a way off for influencers, although it may be a good opportunity for companies to develop their own internal guidelines before signing up influencers to front their campaigns.

So what does this all mean for @darylaiden?

Both the beauty and the frustration of the online world is how quickly moves. Villains have become heroes, saints have morphed into beasts and the Kardashians continue to plague the planet. Interestingly, @darylaiden’s following jumped by 4,000 followers when I last checked following the incident. Nothing is sacred and everybody loves a scandal. So, perhaps he could come full circle.

Daryl’s apology seemed sincere and genuinely contrite. Personally, I hope that he manages to build something out of the ashes that he can be proud of after this nadir, and learns from his mistakes. ‘Influence’ cannot come at all costs. However, I would steer clear of any sponsorships for a while, if I were him. No reputable company would or should be working with him at this moment in time.  

Unless it’s #photoshopanonymous, perhaps?

The influencer space has become like the Wild West, says Tseng

Maureen Tseng is general manager of The Hoffman Agency in Singapore

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