And three days later, we find out (via the same journalist) that people are faking sponsorships:
Sydney Pugh, a lifestyle influencer in Los Angeles, recently staged a fake ad for a local cafe, purchasing her own mug of coffee, photographing it, and adding a promotional caption carefully written in that particular style of ad speak anyone who spends a lot of time on Instagram will recognize. “Instead of [captioning] ‘I need coffee to get through the day,’ mine will say ‘I love Alfred’s coffee because of A, B, C,’” Pugh told me. “You see the same things over and over on actual sponsored posts, so it becomes really easy to emulate, even if you’re not getting paid.”
It's the classic "fake it until you make it" play, with some added social proof manipulation. If you look like you're being paid, you must be influential. And that makes more people follow you, until you do start getting paid.
This is a bubble just waiting to burst, isn't it?