In recent years, content creators, also known as influencers, have an increasingly critical role in shaping political discourse, particularly in Global Majority countries with declining press freedoms. In this research, we investigate the expanding relationship between politicians and influencers, highlighting the incentives that underpin their collaboration to reach hyper-local audiences with hyper-partisan messages. Politicians and candidates prefer to speak with influencers over traditional journalists, given the former sheds a positive light and personifies the candidate through anecdotal storytelling. This undermines the public’s ability to hold politicians accountable and challenges traditional media’s role as the fourth estate.
However, ethical dilemmas emerge from this alliance, as influencers often serve as paid surrogates of political actors, with some 30 percent of surveyed influencers facing coercion or exploitation to endorse specific political parties or candidates, fostering an environment ripe for disinformation and propaganda. Additionally, the research finds that influencer-led political content can generate 50-70 percent higher engagement rates than non-political content in Global Majority countries.
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How Social Media Influencers are Scaling Surrogate Political Campaigns in Global Majority Elections 1
Despite their immense influence, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube lack transparent and robust policies mandating disclosure of sponsored content featuring political figures or messages. This opacity perpetuates an “information black market” for surrogate political campaigns, where partisan agendas thrive unchecked, often misleading voters into believing that partisan promotional content represents organic, ideologically aligned viewpoints, undermining the electorate’s ability to make informed decisions. Given the emphasis influencers place on “authenticity” and “transparency” in building their personal image. As such, the research calls for greater transparency and accountability measures to safeguard the integrity of democratic processes in an increasingly digitized world.
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How Social Media Influencers are Scaling Surrogate Political Campaigns in Global Majority Elections 2
Download the report to explore more data and read our detailed analysis of the global influence-for-hire model and relevant platform policies.
Dhara Mungra
Community Member
Dhara Mungra is a data scientist, and has led research collaborations with newsrooms, civil society organizations, and nonprofits supported by Google, Mozilla and Wikimedia.
Shahzeb Mahmood
Senior Researcher
Shahzeb Mahmood is a senior researcher at Tech Global Institute, specializing in Internet and technology laws. He previously served as legal counsel to telecom, Internet and FAANG companies.