The Liver King Lie: Misrepresentation, justification, and public health implications

Nicholas Gibbs, Timothy Piatkowski*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


It is well-established that performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) are effective in increasing muscle mass and strength. PIEDs are unique in that, while harm may result from use, there is little evidence of widespread individual or social harm comparable with other illicit substances. However, given the rapid growth of the online health and fitness industry, the digital consumption of hardcore fitness content represents a space ripe for indirect harms. A poignant example of this trend among the digital health and fitness community is the contestation around ‘fake natty’ users, who falsely claim to not use PIEDs. The non-disclosure of use has the potential to give individuals who are not enhanced the false impression that they too can achieve a bodily ideal which is similar, potentially resulting in psychological distress and risky behaviours. In this commentary, we discuss this harmful phenomenon using the case study of the fitness influencer Brian Johnson, more commonly known as Liver King. Employing a psycho-criminological lens, we use Social Identity Theories to understand the ‘Primal’ identity, before unpacking Johnson's disavowal of his PIED consumption through Sykes and Matza's (1957) techniques of neutralization. We conclude with an overview of the harms surrounding fake natural influencers and cognitive dissonance, before attempting to map a path towards emic harm reduction in collaboration with the digital fitness community.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103979
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Early online date24 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023

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