Earlier this week, I came across a story in Politico about how influencers are giving the Biden administration a run for its money as the primary source for student loan information. In other words, if you have student loans and you’re seeking information about what’s going on with the state of repayment or forgiveness you’re not going to a government website, you’re going to TikTok.
Per the report, the White House currently has just one Instagram video on SAVE (Biden’s newest repayment plan). That video has 101,000 views. The Education Department has 55K followers, with only one video about SAVE. The White House and the Education Department are not allowed to use TikTok to reach followers.
Alternatively, the hashtag #studentloans now has more than 1.3 billion views on TikTok.
“If the government is trying to help us be educated on what the next steps are and what it is that we need to do, they are failing pretty epically,” Alex Kassan, who is working to pay down more than $100,000 in student loan debt from her master’s degree in public health, told Politico. “It sort of feels like, to me personally and to a lot of my peers, that we’ve just been left high and dry.”
For this article, let’s set aside the Biden administration’s failures on this issue. After all, Maddy Clifford, Deputy Press Secretary of the first union of debtors known as the Debt Collective, told Reckon News in July that the administration has the power to cancel all federal student loan debt through the Higher Education Act of 1965.
The more interesting facet of the story is just how much more young people trust the advice of the influencers they subscribe to than the government body in charge of student loans. According to a Webster Bank survey released this month, about 41 percent of millennials and Gen Zers rely on social media for financial advice. Additionally, findings from a recent survey on ResumeBuilder.com found that more than three-quarters of Gen Z users and nearly 60 percent of young millennials (27-33 year-olds) frequently get career advice from TikTok.
If you’re a regular TikTok user, none of this is surprising to you. But think about how we got here in the first place. In 1968, trust in the federal government was at an all-time high of 77%.
“Within a decade — a period that included the Vietnam War, civil unrest, and the Watergate scandal — trust had fallen by more than half, to 36%,” a study from the Pew Research Center states.
By the end of the 1970s, only about a quarter of Americans felt that they could trust the government. Today, that number is down to 16%. And young people, according to Pew, are less trusting of key institutions.
It’s the same story with trust in establishment media. Just earlier this week, Axios reported that Americans’ trust in mass media plummeted to a historic low. To that end, the percentage of Americans with a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media has not been at the majority level since the beginning of the Iraq war.
All of which is to say, now more than ever, content creators should be aware of how quickly an institution can wear out the public’s trust. There’s no doubt that misinformation on these platforms will almost always exist. But if influencers want to continue being the people’s source of information, they have to stand against the charlatans.