Research exposes influencer role in counterfeit trade

Counterfeiting has become a global economic crime with far-reaching consequences, and a UK study has revealed how social media influencers are facilitating this illicit trade. 

The study by the University of Portsmouth, based on surveys of 2,000 people UK, estimates that 22 per cent of consumers aged 16-60 who are active on social media have purchased counterfeit goods endorsed by influencers. 

It marks the first estimate of its kind and highlights the significant impact these influencers have on counterfeit demand, according to the researchers, who have published the findings in the Deviant Behaviour Journal. 

The study indicates that the success of these social media influencers lies in exploiting certain consumer characteristics that make them susceptible to their charms. including high susceptibility to the influence of trusted digital others, low risk awareness, high risk appetite, and a tendency to rationalise morally questionable purchases.

"Consumers in this marketplace often rely on remote recommendations by third parties, and these influencers have increasingly replaced the customers' own evaluations of purchasing risk," said Prof Mark Button, Director of the Centre for Cybercrime and Economic Crime at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Portsmouth University.

"Social commerce is the new frontier for marketing, and the social media influencers are the new royalty," he added.

The research also suggests that young consumers are most likely to fall prey to the persuasive tactics of these influencers.

Young adults aged 16-33 years are three times as likely to purchase endorsed counterfeits as older consumers aged 34-60 years. Meanwhile, males account for 70 per cent of all buyers, with their risk tolerance and susceptibility to influencers contributing to this high prevalence.

While this research focused on the UK, its implications are far-reaching, considering the global nature of the counterfeit market and the interconnectedness of social media platforms, according to the team.

They call for a more robust approach in policing the content and advertisements that feature on social media platforms, ensuring legitimate brands do not inadvertently contribute to the counterfeit market.

"Counterfeit products injure and kill hundreds of thousands of people across the world," said Dr David Shepherd of School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, who contributed to the research. "The working conditions in the counterfeit factories are unsafe with subsistence level wages. Don't be fooled by social media influencers."

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