Dark side of social media influencers: Enabling counterfeit trade

By our News Team | 2023

Study finds the success of these influencers lies in exploiting certain consumer characteristics that make them susceptible to their charms.

Counterfeiting has become a global economic crime with far-reaching consequences. A new study by the University of Portsmouth in the UK reveals how social media influencers are facilitating this trade.


The research, based on surveys of 2,000 people in Britain, estimates 22% of consumers aged 16–60 who are active on social media have purchased counterfeit goods endorsed by influencers.

Counterfeit Goods

Photo by Cory Doctorow via Flickr

This study published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Deviant Behavior, is said to be the first of its kind and highlights the significant impact these influencers have on counterfeit demand. 


Researchers found that counterfeiters are leveraging the popularity and trust of social media influencers to promote their illegal wares, making it easier than ever for consumers to find and purchase counterfeit products.


The study indicates that the success of these influencers lies in exploiting certain consumer characteristics that make them susceptible to their charms. 


Key factors include high susceptibility to the influence of trusted digital others, low risk awareness, high risk appetite, and a tendency to rationalise morally questionable purchases.


Social media influencers are the new royalty


“Social commerce is the new frontier for marketing, and the social media influencers are the new royalty. 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,” says Professor Mark Button.


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


Findings show that young adults aged 16–33 years are three times as likely to purchase endorsed counterfeits as older consumers aged 34–60 years. Males account for 70% of all buyers, with their risk tolerance and susceptibility to influencers contributing to this high prevalence.


While this research focused on the UK, researchers believe its implications are far-reaching, considering the global nature of the counterfeit market and the inter-connectedness of social media platforms. 


As counterfeiters find new ways to exploit digital marketing techniques, there is an urgent need for industry players and authorities to collaborate and combat this growing threat.


“This study raises serious concerns about the impact of deviant influencer marketing on consumer behaviour, particularly among vulnerable demographics. It is crucial for brands, regulators and law enforcement agencies to take action and disrupt the activities of these illicit influencers and the networks that support them,” says Professor Button.


You can find out more about the study here.

Dr Kin Kariisa

Group CEO - Next Media

Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

  • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
  • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
  • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
  • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
  • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
  • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.