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De-influencing: How the anti-capitalist TikTok trend is eating itself alive

People on TikTok have been posting 'de-influencing' videos apparently addressing overconsumption. Are they as effective as they seem?

illustration of girl on phone screen with swirl of colours in background

Some videos about deinfluencing have millions of views. (Image: Midjourney)

Influencing people to buy things is not new. Whether it’s on Instagram or TikTok, for as long as social media has existed, there have been people who are paid to get other people to buy things.

In a way, it’s a circular economy; a brand gives an influencer like Molly-Mae Hague money to promote them and, because her followers trust what she’s advertising, they spend money on the brand. Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum.

But times may be changing with a trend on TikTok that focuses on “de-influencing”, offering a critique of overconsumption while helping people save money. We are in a cost of living crisis after all.

De-influencing videos began popping up on TikTok at the start of 2023, sincerely encouraging viewers to buy less and stop getting stuck in the never-ending trend cycles of “must-have” items perpetuated by the fashion and beauty industries.

“Overconsumption is at the core of fashion’s devastating environmental impact,” sustainable fashion consultant Lara Tutton told The Big Issue.

“Not only are we buying too much, but we are buying things we do not love, shopping with a buy-and-wear-once approach. Influencers are a key marketing strategy for many brands, training us consumers to constantly crave new wardrobe updates.”

Every year, humans collectively dump 2.12 billion tonnes of waste, according to the United Nations.

“There are already enough clothes in the world to dress us, our friends, and our families many times over,” Love Not Landfill campaign manager Lizzy Woods told the Big Issue.

Love Not Landfill is a non-profit campaign group encouraging people to stop throwing unwanted clothing away.

Nearly five per cent of global waste, or 92 million tonnes, comes from throwing away clothes, while 120 billion units of cosmetic packaging is produced annually.

Much of this waste, which is made out of plastic or synthetic materials that require fossil fuels to create, ends up in landfill and further contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the de-influencing videos on TikTok have highlighted the issue with buying things you don’t need and then throwing them away, with the hashtag quickly gaining popularity as more and more people jumped on the trend and told people what not to buy.

Currently, the hashtag #deinfluencing has over 121 million views across countless videos.

@eliseeatsplants

considering that the rare beauty blushes each last a lifetime, you may not need 6 of them #deinfluencing #makeup

♬ original sound – elise maria

“I’m trying to cut back on my overconsumption, and you probably should too,” one user says in a video that received nearly two million views, going on to question why people buy “25 different perfumes”, Ugg boots, and expensive skincare products.

“Don’t buy these, you don’t need them,” she adds.

Another says TikTok has made people think overconsumption seems normal. She says: “There’s nothing fun, there’s nothing sexy, there’s nothing alluring… about over-consuming and having your life and your environment cluttered in a mess and piling up with stuff you don’t even use.” 

Her video received 1.4 million views.

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But, the videos focusing exclusively on overconsumption are no longer taking centre stage on the #deinfluencing page, as the trend has been hijacked by people – some of whom identify as influencers themselves – who want to suggest alternatives and “dupes” for viral products that are usually promoted on TikTok.

Instead of encouraging people to buy less overall, de-influencing is now about spending less money for similar products, many of which come from companies that have dubious sustainability practices such as Amazon.

A quick scroll through the #deinfluencing tag on TikTok shows that many de-influencing videos, which are receiving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of views, are continuing to encourage viewers to spend their money and buy the latest makeup, fashion, skincare, or hair care product that will “change their life” while paying lip service to the idea of reducing consumption. 

The notion that such videos are missing the point of de-influencing in the first place has not been overlooked by some.

One TikTok user posted a video criticising the trend, saying: “The reason why I hate the de-influencing trend is because you guys are doing it wrong. You’re contradicting yourselves by de-influencing one product while hyping up another. That’s even worse.” 

However, her video has received only 20,000 views – a fraction of the views other videos are getting which suggests substitutes.

Another user’s video told people they “don’t need to buy” an expensive makeup product but, equally, they “don’t need to buy a bunch of shitty dupes”. 

“I know a lot of people out there want to find dupes because it’s what they can afford (I’ve been there!), but ultimately do you need it? Otherwise look at what you already have, and know that you definitely don’t need that extra product you may barely reach for. Shopping for dupes actually only furthers this unhealthy desire of overconsumption,” she added in the caption of her video.

woman holding up sign at climate protest about overconsumption that says "less is more. It's Eco-logical"
Climate protest, location unknown. £140 million worth of used but still wearable clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year.
(Image: Nik/Unsplash)

Woods said the “microtrends” being pushed by influencers is “contributing to the climate emergency in a major way” by encouraging people to buy more and more. 

“True de-influencing would be encouraging people to do this but the very misleading name is sadly only contributing to overconsumption,” she added.

People on Twitter have also begun to criticise the de-influencing trend, highlighting that it isn’t what it seems. One person tweeted: “The real de-influencing isn’t saying ‘Buy this over this’, it’s saying ‘Hey you already have a working version of this product and don’t need to buy more of it’ because WHO NEEDS 10 FOUNDATIONS?!! you have one face!!”

Dior Foundation
120 billion units of cosmetic packaging is thrown out every year. (Image: Hitesh Dewasi/Unsplash)

Another wrote: “Absolutely hate the way the de-influencing discussion on tiktok turned into a what to buy and what not to buy like that’s not just another form of influencer videos.”

A third said that the “most sustainable clothing/makeup/skin care routine” you can have is “to use up what you already own”, encouraging people to be wary of throwing something out “because someone else said it wasn’t worth it”.

Tutton agreed: “The most sustainable garment is the one you already own; the second most sustainable garment is one that someone else already owns.”

She recommended checking charity shops to see if what you want has been made and discarded before or going on social media to seek out swap groups “if you absolutely need a new item”.

“By buying second hand you’re preventing waste and reusing existing materials, which is better for the environment overall,” Tutton added.

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

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