‘Girl Gang’ is Helping Danish Students to Think Critically about Social Media Influencers

Photo by
Niels van Deurs
Rachel Sheary
November 8, 2023

Social media Influencers have become a go-to source of entertainment and inspiration for the younger generation.

Portraying a life that is enviable to many, the profession has exploded over the past decade, promoting everything from beauty and fitness to social activism and human rights.

But with new studies revealing that 12% of Danish teenagers feel lonely, and more young people expressing feelings of anxiety and negative self image, are influencers having a negative impact on Danish youth, or are they contributing to a sense of community and belonging?

‘Girl Gang’ is the latest addition to the ASK WHY? Doc’s lineup of films, which educate 7,000 young people across19 municipalities in Denmark  about human rights and social issues through cinema screenings, followed by debates and discussions with guest speakers.

The documentary follows the life of 14-year-old social media influencer Leonie (known as Leoobaly to her fans) and her parents, who quit their jobs to dedicate their time to Leonie’s career on social media. Several hundred kilometers away, her biggest fan, 13-year-old Melanie, lives and fantasizes about Leoobaly's perfect life. 'Girl Gang' is a film about dreams, illusions and self-perception that explores both the bright and the dark sides of social media.

This is the first time the educational project has touched on the topic of social media and life online. According to ASK WHY? project officer Karen Wulff Sørensen, it’s important that a dialogue is opening up on the subject:

"I believe Girl Gang is a great starting point for a conversation about how social media influences the way we act and feel in our everyday life. We know that 9 out 10 people in Denmark use social media, which makes it the country in the EU where the largest percentage of the population is on social media. It is therefore essential that we can have an open dialogue without judgement about the possibilities and consequences that our social media presence brings forward."  

‘Girl Gang’ presents some interesting statistics about how young people view influencers. In one survey mentioned in the film, 86% of young people stated that they would like to be influencers. Another study reports that 48% of young people feel closer to their SOME idol than their friends.

There are also some more concerning statistics. According to a study by 'Børns Vilkår', 34-38% of girls and 18-28% of boys in 6th-9th grade in Denmark edit their pictures before posting on social media. 50% of them edit their pictures because they ‘don't like how they look'.

Then there is the question of paid promotions by influencers. Though influencers  are now legally required to disclose paid ads or sponsorships, this does not stop them from promoting unhealthy products. In Girl Gang, for example, Leonie promotes Mcdonalds.

All of that said, it's important to highlight social media's and influencers' capacity to create community, promote body-positivity, educate young people and provide a tangible income for young entrepreneurs.

Guest speaker Mary Consolata Namagambe spoke about her own experience on social media after the film. As well as being an influencer, Mary is a women’s rights activist and entrepreneur, and has founded the organizations She For She Pads and Girls Will Be Girls Denmark.

"In the intricate tapestry of the online world, influencers hold the threads that weave both cautionary tales and stories of empowerment,” She says, “Through the lens of social media, we find community, body positivity, and the chance to educate and uplift. As an influencer, activist, and entrepreneur, I've witnessed the highs and lows. I believe that sharing these experiences with students is pivotal – fostering critical thinking and empathy to navigate the digital landscape."

After screenings, students asked Mary questions about her own experience -  if she had experienced some of the same loneliness and pressure as Leonie, If she had promoted a product that she didn't believe in and what she felt were the most extreme aspects of being an influencer for her.

Next week, Mary and the ASK WHY? team will continue screenings of ‘Girl Gang’ in Svendborg for six more schools.

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