Kelly Dodd is one of the stars of “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” a show in its 15th season that follows the travails of six women in Southern California.
Ms. Dodd — who now goes by her married name, Leventhal, on social media — has been skeptical about mask wearing on Instagram, and when several of her more than 900,000 followers challenged her, she snapped back: “it’s not a pandemic anymore!! Did you read the CDC numbers!! My platform isn’t to be a sheep [sheep emoji] my platform is to be an independent thinker!”
Ms. Leventhal is not the only reality star to be criticized for her coronavirus hygiene, or lack thereof. Big Ed of “90 Day Fiancé” on TLC was taken to task on social media for cozying up to fans without a mask. Kristin Cavallari, the star of “Very Cavallari,” which recently finished its final season on the E! Network, was slammed for taking a luxury trip to the Bahamas in mid-March, after parts of the United States were put on lockdown.
You may be thinking: Who cares what these people say about coronavirus? But there is research that shows the health-related behaviors of reality stars can affect viewers’ behavior, and now that these personalities have popular social media platforms, their claims have an unmediated reach as we hit another peak in coronavirus cases.
With the caveat that we don’t really know the impact of mask wearing from influencers because the pandemic is so new, “reality TV research has been linked to health behavior for the past couple of decades,” said Mark Flynn, an associate professor of communication and media studies at Emmanuel College in Boston. Mr. Flynn has published research on reality stars drinking, smoking and sexual activity, as well as the impact of social media on body image.
There’s also evidence that celebrity endorsement of a discredited link between vaccines and autism has contributed to much more skepticism of vaccines among Americans. It’s also possible that, currently, “these media figures might have an outsize role” in altering our behavior, said Kristen Elmore, a research associate at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University.