CS Colloquium - Ethics and Labor in the Production of Sponsored Content in the Travel Influencer Industry

September 6, 2019 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm
110 MLH
Ryan Stoldt
School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Iowa

Influencers are Internet users who gather a dedicated following on blog and social media about their lives and often monetize their large followings by partnering with advertisers. Media coverage abounds with ethical questions surrounding this emerging industry. Much of this coverage assumes influencers operate without an ethical framework and many social media personalities skirt around the edges of legal guidelines for disclosures of sponsored content. Through interviews with influencers, advertisers, and intermediaries across the travel industry, this research project connects the work of travel influencers to the labor of travel writers historically and highlights how differences between these industries result in different labor formations. Because of these differences, we argue that influencer marketing is not inherently unethical but that the ethical principles guiding influencers’ production of sponsored content do not match the understanding of ethics in journalistic travel writing. Our findings demonstrate that influencers use the concept of authenticity as an ethical framework when producing sponsored content. This framework puts the influencers’ brand identity and relationship with the audience at the forefront while simultaneously allowing them to profit from content designed to benefit brands and destinations.


Ryan Stoldt - School of Journalism and Mass CommunicationRyan Stoldt is a PhD Candidate in Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. His research explores the intersections between big data and media production in a global context.