At this point, it’s safe to say that many of us have a love-hate relationship with social media. Other than the constant pressure to make it appear that our lives are better than they are to our followers, social media can have a devastating impact on mental illness, like with increasing the risk of depression and eating disorders. But, we keep going back. For chronically ill people like myself, social media can be our portal to the “outside world” if we have to be on bed rest.
This is why a recent article from Vox is so alarming. In the article “The latest Instagram influencer frontier? Medical promotions,” writer Suzanne Zuppello explores the increasing number of influencers who post sponsored content which Big Pharma to promote medical devices and medicine. Sure, many of these influencers abide by Instagram’s policies and make it clear that companies are sponsoring their content, but it’s still problematic. I’ll break down why, as a chronically ill person with a rare disease who is actively searching for medication that will help relieve me of debilitating symptoms.
My main issue is that Big Pharma partners with influencers on social media with the intent, as far as I can tell, to convince social media users to buy their products. These medical promotions are used solely to help companies make more money and stuff Big Pharma executives’ pockets. Big Pharma using sneaky strategies to make more profit isn’t anything new unfortunately. Big Pharma drug companies regularly give bonuses to doctors who prescribe their medication and donate money to members of the United States Congress to convince congressmen to reject legislation that would hold Big Pharma accountable. If they actually cared about patients, they would lower the price of their medication and other products to make them more affordable.
However, the fault does not entirely the fault of Big Pharma companies. Social media influencers really need to take the responsibility and not do partnerships with Big Pharma companies who are looking to make more money, not help patients. Many people who follow influencers who have chronic illnesses, disabilities, and other health problems have similar conditions or have a loved one that does. If I saw an influencer saying that they found a product that helps minimize the symptoms of my autoimmune disorder, I would want to try that product myself. Even if it’s clear that their post is sponsored – I am desperate for relief and would be willing to look past that. These sponsored posts really take advantage of patients who are willing to try nearly anything to feel better.
Medical promotions on social media really are just the latest case of how disgusting late stage capitalism can be. It’s gross in general that the greed of a few makes medical costs astronomical for many. Big Pharma partnering with social media influencers to promote their medicine and other products are really just an extenuation of this repulsive greed. Medicine should only be promoted with the intent of wanting to share a product that has helped you. I’ve told friends with chronic illnesses about what has helped me – and same vice versa. The difference is that we don’t have a financial motive to do so.
So, what should be done? I, for one, think Big Pharma should be dismantled and replaced by people in the medical field who want to help others for the sake of improving lives. But, if that’s too much of a stretch, we should be wary of what social media influencers promote and advocate for them to stop partnering with Big Pharma for sponsorships.