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‘De-Influencers’ Want You to Think Twice Before Buying That Mascara

TikTok users are speaking critically about viral products and advocating for thoughtful shopping habits. On a platform known for driving consumption, is change even possible?

Fri, Feb 3, 2023 8:42amGrey Clock 5 min

After years of influencers pushing cosmetics, clothes, personal tech and supplements to the masses, a rising cohort is taking a different tack: telling people what not to buy. They’re calling it “de-influencing.”

The term is being popularised in videos by people whose experience runs the gamut: disappointed consumers, savvy beauty bloggers, doctors dispelling skin-care myths and former retail employees dishing on which products they saw returned most often. Their shared guidance is a rejoinder to a seemingly endless stream of recommendations and promotional content on the platform—and a sign of growing backlash to over consumption. TikTok videos under the hashtag #deinfluencing have surpassed 68 million views.

TikTok has become one of the most powerful forces in online retail, helping to boost butt-lifting leggings, luxe lip oils and green-juice powders, among other trendy products. Brands have poured money into influencer marketing on the platform, knowing a viral video can make almost anything sell out, and videos featuring the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt have together earned more than 40 billion views.

“The best way to think about TikTok is that it’s a vehicle that takes a consumer to the checkout line,” said Krishna Subramanian, the co-founder of Captiv8, a marketing platform that connects influencers and brands.

But a deluge of sponsored videos and hyper-enthusiastic reviews has made it harder for consumers to figure out which items are actually worth their money.

“We’re constantly being fed, ‘You need to try this product,’ ‘You will love this product,’” said Karen Wu, 25, a makeup and skin-care influencer who lives outside Los Angeles. De-influencing is an attempt to change that.

What exactly is de-influencing?

The term refers to people speaking critically about products on a platform where endorsements run rampant.

De-influencing videos may steer consumers toward cheaper alternatives, also known as dupes, or discourage them from spending money in certain categories altogether.

Maddie Wells, a beauty influencer in Lexington, Ky., was early to the trend. She began making videos in 2020 about the products she frequently saw customers return to Sephora and Ulta, where she held sales associate jobs between 2018 and 2021.

In a September video with 2.5 million views, she name-drops the Ordinary’s Peeling Solution and Too Faced’s Better Than Sex mascara as cosmetics that—despite being frequently touted by beauty influencers—often found their way back to the shelves at those stores. “I’m calling this ‘de-influencing,’” she says in the video. The Ordinary and Too Faced didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“I can’t say without a shadow of a doubt I was the first person to ever say it,” Ms. Wells said of her coinage, but it has significantly caught on since.

How did the trend start?

Though de-influencing is a relatively new term, TikTok users have been speaking candidly about products for some time now. Last year, entrepreneur and former Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel earned headlines for her unapologetic and critical reviews of popular beauty products.

“I wanted the glow. I wanted to glow like they glowed,” Ms. Frankel said of influencers promoting cosmetics. In trying out popular products herself, she’s found that some of them don’t live up to the hype. She said she’s been approached by beauty companies that want to send her products and have her post paid reviews, but she has turned them down in favour of partnering with brands she already knows and likes.

“The hill that I’m not dying on is lying about a lip gloss,” Ms. Frankel said.

In December 2021, style influencer Elise Harmon went viral after posting a video about the low-cost contents of Chanel’s $825 holiday advent calendar, including stickers, temporary tattoos and a dust bag.

“I was more upset with the fact that I wasn’t being a conscientious buyer. I bought something blindly without really looking at the quality of what was inside,” Ms. Harmon said. “I think people were excited to hear someone say they didn’t think it was worth it.”

A representative for Chanel declined to comment. In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily after Ms. Harmon’s video went viral, Chanel’s president of fashion said the company would be “much more cautious” about introducing similar products.

Why is it taking off now?

The pervasiveness of influencer marketing has put the onus on consumers to decipher which reviews can be trusted and what products are worth their money.

Those concerns came to a head last week when Mikayla Nogueira, a makeup artist with 14.4 million TikTok followers, was accused of wearing fake eyelashes in a sponsored post for L’Oréal mascara. (Neither a representative for Ms. Nogueira nor L’Oréal responded to multiple requests for comment.)

A TikTok spokesperson said that the company “has strict policies to protect users from fake, fraudulent, or misleading content, including ads, and we remove any content that violates our Community Guidelines, Advertising Guidelines, and Terms of Service.”

As viewers become more skeptical of promotions on the platform, influencers who appear raw, honest and critical in their approaches may stand to benefit, experts say.

“Originally, influencers were very beholden to their audience, then brands came along and said ‘let’s see how we can leverage this.’ Then, influencers became super beholden to brands,” said Jenna Drenten, associate professor of marketing at Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business. Now, she said, “influencers are swinging back to the accountability between themselves and their audiences.”

What are some other products de-influencers are calling out?

Many of the products being critiqued today are ones that owe their success in large part to TikTok influencers.

Alexandra Williams, a 25-year-old tech sales employee in San Diego, Calif., recently posted about a knockoff of the Stanley tumbler, after seeing the 40-ounce water bottle all over social media. Terence Reilly, Stanley’s global president, said that sales of Stanley’s marquee Quencher bottle increased by 275% in 2022 compared with the previous year.

“Whenever I use my water bottle it’s because I’m going on a hike, or I’m throwing it down below in my car because I’m going to a workout class,” Ms. Williams said. Like Stanley’s Quencher, the bottle has a non-collapsible straw, which she said made it prone to spills and impractical for her active lifestyle. Mr. Reilly suggested that customers looking for a leakproof Stanley alternative could buy the IceFlow Tumbler.

Lola Olson, a 23-year-old fashion and lifestyle influencer in Germany, recently posted a video naming several brands and products she didn’t like, including shampoo from hair-care line Olaplex.

“There’s always going to be those people that are like, ‘It worked great for me.’ It just didn’t for me,” she said. “So I was just being honest, and I feel like that’s what people want from influencers.” She recommended her followers try K18 Hair, an Olaplex competitor her mom advised her to try, instead.

In response to a request for comment, an Olaplex spokesperson shared reports about the brand’s popularity and data on its social-media reach. A representative for K18 said that while the company uses influencers to promote its products, Ms. Olson has not worked with the brand.

Wait, but isn’t that still influencing?

Yes and no.

While emerging influencers may not be paid to name-drop alternatives, it’s easy to see how the space can quickly get murky as those with brand deals may seek to discredit the product of a competitor.

“There’s a big difference between saying, ‘I use a product and I enjoy it and I’m not getting paid to say this,’ versus ‘I have a previous relationship with a brand, and I’m telling you this alternative doesn’t work,’” said Prem Tripathi, a facial plastic surgeon in the San Francisco Bay Area who posts videos countering popular skin-care myths.

In a recent TikTok video, Dr. Tripathi poked fun at the de-influencing trend, offering up alternatives that had no connection to the hyped-up serums and creams in question: a “Golden Girls” mug, a luxury towel warmer and a lint remover.


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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The Strongest Protection for Your Online Accounts? This Little Key

Passwords aren’t enough to fend off hackers; these dongles are the best defense

Mon, Mar 27, 2023 4 min

Strong passwords are very important, but they’re not enough to protect you from cybercriminals.

Passwords can be leaked or guessed. The key to online security is protecting your account with a strong secondary measure, typically a single-use code. This is referred to as “two-factor authentication,” or 2FA, as the nerds know it.

I’ve written about all the different types of 2FA, such as getting those codes sent via text message or generated in an authenticator app. Having any kind of second factor is better than none at all, but physical security keys—little dongles that you plug into a USB port or tap on your phone during account logins—offer the highest level of protection.

Security keys have been around for over a decade, but now they’re in the spotlight: Apple recently introduced support for them as an optional, added protection for Apple ID accounts. Last month, Twitter removed text-message-based authentication as an option for nonpaying users, recommending instead an authenticator app or security key.

Some people are hesitant to use security keys because carrying around a physical object seems burdensome and they come with a $30-and-up added cost. Plus, what happens if they get lost?

I’ve used security keys since 2016 and think they are actually easier to manage than codes—especially with accounts that don’t require frequent logins. They’re not only convenient, but they can’t be copied or faked by hackers, so they’re safer, too.

Here’s how to weigh the benefits and common concerns of adding one or two of these to your keychain.

Which security key should I use?

Many internet services support the use of security keys, and you can use the same security key to unlock accounts on many different services. I recommend two from industry leader Yubico:

  • YubiKey 5C NFC ($US55) if you have a USB-C laptop or tablet
  • YubiKey 5 NFC ($US50) for devices with older USB ports

Other options include Google’s Titan security keys ($30 and up). In addition to working with laptops and tablets with USB ports, these keys are compatible with smartphones that have NFC wireless. Most smartphones these days have that, since it’s the technology behind wireless payments such as Apple Pay.

Adam Marrè, chief information security officer at cybersecurity firm Arctic Wolf, recommends that your chosen key is certified by the FIDO Alliance, which governs the standards of these devices.

How do security keys work?

To add a key, look in the security settings of your major accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.). During setup, it will prompt you to insert the key into your laptop or tablet’s port or hold the key close to your phone for wireless contact.

Apple requires you to add two security keys to your Apple ID account, in case you lose one.

Typically, when you log in, you just go to the app or website where you’ve set up a key, enter your username and password as usual, then once again insert the key into the device or hold it close. (Some keys have a metal tab you have to press to activate.) At that point, the service should let you right in.

Why are they so secure?

Getting those two-factor login codes via text message is convenient, but if you are someone criminals are targeting, you could be the victim of SIM swapping. That’s where thieves convince carriers to port your number to a new phone in their possession, and they use it along with your stolen password to hack your accounts.

Even if they don’t go to all that trouble, criminals might try to trick you to hand them your codes, by calling you or spoofing a website you typically visit. At that point they can use the code for about 60 seconds to try to break in, said Ryan Noon, chief executive at security firm Material Security.

Security keys protect you in two ways: First, there’s no code to steal, and second, they use a security protocol to verify the website’s domain during login, so they won’t work on fake sites.

You can also add an authenticator app such as Authy to your most important accounts, to use only as a backup. But once you add these secure methods, you should consider removing the text-message code option.

In the rare case that someone snoops your passcode then steals your iPhone, beware: The perpetrator could still make Apple ID account changes using only the passcode, and even remove security keys from your account.

What happens if you lose your key?

The most important rule of security keys is to buy an extra one (or two).

“Think of your security key as you would a house or car key,” said Derek Hanson, Yubico’s vice president of solutions architecture. “It’s always recommended that you have a spare.”

If you lose a security key, remove it from your accounts immediately. You should have already registered your spare or an authenticator app as a backup to use in the meantime.

Where can you use a security key?

Start with your most valuable accounts: Google, Apple, Microsoft, your password manager, your social–media accounts and your government accounts.

When it comes to financial institutions, many banks don’t offer security-key protection as an option, though most leading crypto exchanges do.

What comes after security keys?

Security professionals and tech companies widely agree that passkeys are the future. They’re a new type of software option that combines the high security of a physical key with the convenience of biometrics such as your face or fingerprints. Passkeys are supported across the Android, iOS, Mac and Windows platforms, and some of your favourite sites already let you use them.

You can create a passkey on Facebook in security settings by following the app’s instructions under the security-key option. Dropbox has a similar passkey setup. Once you’re done, you’ll use your face or fingerprint as a second factor, instead of a code or key.

Eventually, physical security keys could be what we keep safe in strong boxes, as backups for our biometric-enabled passkeys. Even then, you’re probably going to want to have spares.

Pamela Anderson House

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