Abstract: Social media influencers have become an indispensable part of social media, informing audiences, especially young ones, about various topics, such as beauty, lifestyle, or food. Recently more political influencers have emerged, and regular influencers have increasingly taken positions on political and societally relevant topics, including climate justice and gender equality. Yet, empirical evidence on how both types of influencers are perceived by their audiences and how they might impact young audiences regarding political action is scarce. Hence, the present study set out to investigate adolescents’ and young adults’ use and perception of social media influencers in the context of political information dissemination, opinion formation, and mobilization. With the help of qualitative interviews of young people in Germany (16–22 years), we show that while the mainstream media seems to still be the primary source of political information, influencers focused on politics are increasingly used to make sense of this information. The presumed impact ranges from amplifying the effects of existing opinions to opinion formation and changes in voting intentions based on the assessment provided by the influencer. Regular influencers who talk about political topics occasionally are not perceived as reliable sources of political information.
Keywords: digital opinion leadership; incidental news exposure; political influencers; political mobilization; social media influencers