The Influencer Deception


As influencers falsify credentials and backgrounds to make monetary gains, will this force even tighter regulations for social media creators?

It’s been another week where Indian social media influencers found themselves under the spotlight in a year that’s already been full of scrutiny — ranging from the crackdown on ‘finfluencers’ to concerns about misleading content and unethical promotions.

This past week, the attention turned to Ravisutanjani Kumar, who had over 1.25 Lakh followers on X (Twitter) but quit the platform after many of his claims and accolades were exposed by an anonymous X handle and then questioned by several others. The allegation is that Kumar landed jobs at major startups with fake educational qualifications and also a living as an influencer.

Now, many are left wondering what this means for anyone who has contributed to Kumar’s income, even some users who have paid for his courses on online platforms. As influencers falsify credentials and backgrounds to make monetary gains, will this force even tighter regulations for social media creators?

We’ll look at the situation after these top stories from our newsroom:

The Fall Of An Influencer

It all came to an end for Ravisutanjani Kumar on Tuesday (September 12), when an X user, SatarkAadmi’, posted a thread with the tagline “Who is the real Ravisutanjani? And why is he faking it?”.

The post investigated many of Kumar’s claims on social media around his educational background, including computer engineering from IIIT Allahabad.

Kumar responded the next day claiming he had been harassed and targeted by social media users, and proceeded to delete his Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

A noted influencer before this incident, Kumar shot to fame for his timely and consistent tweets on everything to do with Indian tech, startups (fintech primarily), founders as well as the economy or new policies. Most recently, a video featuring Kumar using a UPI-powered ATM at the Global Fintech Fest also went viral — it saw over 2.2 Mn views, and its repost by Union Minister For Commerce & Industry Piyush Goyal saw another 1.5 Mn+ views.

His tweets were even retweeted by PM Narendra Modi at one point, which gave him quite a lot of clout online, and Kumar seemingly leveraged this to a certain extent.

For instance, on creator platform TopMate, Kumar charged individuals INR 250 to INR 25,000 for services such as consulting, mentoring, brand building, etc.

Unmasking Ravisutanjani Kumar

But a bit of internet sleuthing by the anonymous Twitter account showed that Kumar had not been honest about some of the degrees he had claimed on LinkedIn, and purportedly miscast himself as having high-level roles at many tech startups.

Among his past employers, he named the likes of Testbook, Zomato, OYO and Jar. Startup hiring has changed quite a bit and degrees or colleges don’t matter too much at the entry level, so faking credentials to land multiple jobs seems like a deliberate step to mislead.

Notably, he claimed to be an ‘Ex VP’ at Mumbai-based edtech startup Testbook and a ‘Partnership Consultant’ at Jar. But sources at Testbook told Inc42 that he was a junior-to-middle-level employee.

Sources at OYO pointed out something similar, claiming that Kumar was one of the thousands of business development associates hired by the company. “He was not really looking at anything major. We looked up his background after the tweets about him. He was managing some hotel partners in Lucknow for a few months but there are thousands of such employees at OYO,” a source close to the OYO leadership informed us.

The Pressures Of The Influencer Economy 

Of course, we have seen the influencer problem take various shapes and forms — sham funding festivals, smear campaigns on social media and more. Critics, including other startup founders, believe that the drive to earn more money has made many influencers forget something very fundamental — their influence is built on honesty and relatability.

“The reason people click and buy from influencers is because they have a very high trust factor. Influencers stake their face and reputation in exchange for a brand or a startup, so the audience trusts their content more than regular ads,” a founder of a influencer-focussed ecommerce platform.

The problem even drew a comment from Zerodha cofounder and CEO Nithin Kamath. “When the goal is to be popular on social media, even those who are otherwise successful in their professional lives may feel otherwise,” the noted entrepreneur said on social media this week.

But there’s more at stake than just faking credentials because, like many influencers, Kumar too earned income by either engaging brands or ad revenue share or even offering courses online.

In fact, Kumar himself claimed that he would be reimbursing those who paid for his content on TopMate, where he has 56 bookings currently. It’s not clear whether Kumar can indeed reimburse any users on the platform.

Regulators Vs Influencers 

There’s been quite a social media storm around influencers using false credentials to potentially spread misinformation about financial services, investments, stocks and more.

In late August 2023, SEBI released a consultation paper in a bid to curb the misselling of financial products, looking to potential manipulation by those who are faking their credentials or have other vested interests.

Regulators across the board have raised concerns about finfluencers misleading retail investors with unsolicited opinions on investment and stock trading. SEBI’s consultation paper has proposed a list of measures to stop the use of unregistered advisors by brokerages and other investment firms.

Even the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) revised its guidelines for finfluencers, making it mandatory for them to be registered with SEBI to offer investment-related advice.

SEBI’s action against YouTuber and finfluencer P R Sundar shows the regulator is serious. Sundar is barred from trading for a year over alleged violations of norms for investment advisors and will pay a settlement amount of INR 46.8 Lakh. SEBI is looking to disgorge INR 6 Cr, including profits earned from advisory services by Sundar. It’s unclear how long this disgorgement proceeding will go on.

Influencers have become a key sales channel for all businesses. Sham funding festivals such as the World Startup Convention might not have been selling financial services directly, but they use influencers close to the startup ecosystem to sell their property and earn money by targeting unsuspecting customers.

The issue is even more serious when it comes to influencers who directly ask people to invest. The problem here of course is that there’s nothing governing what influencers can and cannot sell online.

As brands and startups look to reach their audience in an authentic manner, influencers have become their go-to option. Often, this content is said to be more appealing to customers who relate to the creator and their voice.

But with 400 Mn+ social media users and counting, India has a huge problem if influencer content is left unchecked and if there are no mechanisms to verify influencer profiles or adequately monitor their claims. Clearly, social media verification has not worked as intended, and gullible people are falling victim to untested influencer claims.

Kumar has exited social media for the time being, but the noise on social media of people and influencers selling something will not stop. Will the growing significance of social media influencers such as Kumar force the regulatory hand to build more safeguards?

Startup Spotlight: 30 Startups To Watch In August 2023

Indian startups are innovating like never before, achieving maturity and thereby becoming more promising bets for both domestic and international investors. Even though the funding outlook is bleak, this doesn’t seem to be holding back early-stage ventures.

In particular, B2B startups are making the most of the current environment and are in the spotlight even in our 30 Startups to Watch list for the month of August. More than 65% of the 30 startups operate in the B2B space, and almost all of them are building their products without raising too much funds.

Check Out Our Latest 30 Startups List

Sunday Roundup: Startup Funding, Tech Stocks & More


  • Odisha’s Dreams Take Flight: Home to over 1,700 startups, Odisha has set its sights on fostering more than 5K startups by 2025. Here’s how
  • Dunzo In Major Trouble: Dunzo has again deferred the payment of pending salaries to employees and there may be more layoffs in store at the hyperlocal delivery startup


That’s all for this week. Join Inc42 on Instagram, X/Twitter and LinkedIn for the latest news as it happens.

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