Oil companies are hiring TikTok influencers to court young people. The TikTok star Nora Capistrano Sangalang is best known for posting videos about her grandson, in which she describes herself as “our Filipino grandma” and a “granfluencer.”
But in September, she posted something that surprised and irritated some of her 2.3 million followers across TikTok and Instagram: an advertisement for the oil giant Shell’s fuel rewards program.
“I love your account, and you make me laugh a lot,” one fan commented. “I can’t imagine that you would partner with a company that… contributes significantly to climate change. This is really a very bad image.”
Sangalang, who also goes by “Mama Nora,” is not alone. She is one of more than 100 influencers who have used their platforms to promote fossil fuel companies since 2017, reaching billions of people around the globe, according to new research by DeSmog, an investigative climate website.
Oil companies have turned to TikTok, which more than two-thirds of American teens report using, as surveys show young people are increasingly concerned about climate change.
Oil companies are hiring TikTok influencers to court young people
“They are trying to win the trust of a younger generation,” said Sam Bright, DeSmog’s U.K. deputy editor. “They’re not just promoting a particular product; they’re trying to alter their perception in the public eye and maintain their social license.”
Youth climate activists have also taken to TikTok to mobilize against fossil fuels. In March, the hashtag #StopWillow became a trending topic on TikTok, as young environmentalists tried to stop ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil project in Alaska. The Biden administration ultimately approved the project.
Asked for comment, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email: “People are well aware that Shell produces oil and gas that they depend on every day. Many don’t know we are also, in a disciplined way, investing billions in low-carbon solutions and products in support of a balanced energy transition. Making customers aware of those products by way of advertising on social media is one way we pursue business performance and a valid part of our marketing activities.”
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