A couple weeks ago I started to get some messages on my Instagram account asking me to weigh in on the conflict that was rising in Palestine. After I spoke about it, I started to get messages from people asking me to not talk about it (insert eye roll). And then? People started to ask me to call out other influencers who were not speaking about it. And that’s when I started to get pissed off.
I posed a question in my stories asking my community if they expect influencers to weigh in on current events and a whopping third of my audience did. I got curious. I posed another question asking those that answered yes, why? On the flip side, I also asked influencers why they don’t “speak up” on current events or politics. And as someone who regularly uses my platform to talk about important issues, the answers to the latter were eye-opening.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I prefaced these questions with a video from President Obama. In it, he takes on ‘woke’ call-out culture. It’s a short video, and it’s thought provoking. In the video he calls out some activists with the thinking, “the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people.” This hit me hard. As someone who has never called anyone out publicly, I’ve definitely silently judged influencers really hard for not speaking out on certain issues. And before you think this is a post that excuses influencers’ complete disregard of major polarizing events, keep reading.
First, let me start with the answers to the first question: Why do we expect influencers to speak out on current events? Several responders just wanted a simple acknowledgment of events, but not necessarily a 5-page dissertation. One of the responses said, “They don’t have to take a stance, but sometimes it feels odd when the world is on fire and we are talking about pillows with no acknowledgement.” Another said, “When the world is witnessing tragedy, it seems bizarre to listen to someone talk about their new couch or their HomeGoods haul.” And while many others didn’t necessarily feel like the influencer should “take a side,” they would’ve been happy with a simple, “educating myself on this issue.”
Another really interesting one for me was, “The selling point for influencers in the first place is they are real people, seemingly without a corporate filter….people seem less real and relatable when they go about their (usually very privileged) lives without even mentioning what’s happening.” Some responders really stressed the point of wanting to follow people that “share my values,” or “I want to put my money behind someone with my beliefs.” As I started to get these, I posed another question asking if people felt “more connected” to an influencer who shared their beliefs publicly and 84% did. Honestly, this is no surprise to me.
Other responders felt that “if you have a big platform, you have an obligation to speak up.” Another recurring point, and one that I kept getting when I was asked to speak about Palestine, was the expectation that if you speak up on one issue, you are expected to now speak up on other issues or it appears as if you do not care about the latter. Same with religion. I had many responders state that if you can talk about religion, you should be able to talk about other issues and current events. And guys, this is where it really starts to get dangerous. Pushing influencers (or anyone) to speak out publicly (especially those with a large platform) on an issue they know nothing about, is not only irresponsible, but can be damaging in so many ways.
I have to admit, all the reasons stated above resonate with me deeply. Most of them are the reasons I speak out so much, and will continue to do so. I watched other influencers who stayed silent on important events and I judged silently. I called them privileged, and I accused them of worrying about losing followers. And look, there are so many that fall under that category. However, for many others, there is more to the story than that. And as I read through all the responses, I really started to understand. Let’s normalize learning new things and changing our perspective, eh?
When I asked influencers why they didn’t speak out, mental health came up a lot. Look guys, the internet is f*cking savage. Yielding DMs on hot topics is exhausting. And the larger your platform, the more trolls come out to play. And I’m not talking about civil disagreements, I’m talking about vile messages and sometimes death threats (yes, death threats).
On mental health, influencers shared something I didn’t think about. Many shared stories about the struggles they go through behind the phone screen, and that the few minutes you saw their face, were the few minutes they got some relief from the stresses in their life. One wrote, “It’s difficult to satisfy everyone. It leaves me emotionally exhausted every time…I feel inadequate, ill equipped, and the DMs don’t stop. It’s like having 100’s of conversations on a heavy topic and I feel the burden of other’s emotions.” And before some of you scream privilege and get your panties in a wad (believe me I’ve been there), I encourage you not to judge something you know nothing about. We are not all built to handle the same things. And in a society that seems to sometimes have a complete disregard for mental health, let’s all try to give each other a little more grace.
Others shared that they didn’t feel equipped to talk about some issues, and didn’t want to say the wrong thing. A good friend of mine wrote, “This is an issue I have zero depth in. Zero. And I’m trying to learn more and more..but it feels like it’d be legitimately reckless of me to say something half baked. And it would be so half baked. I don’t want to do more harm.” Another shared, “I don’t understand why just because someone is good at something like interior design for example, that they are also expected to become a reliable source of inspiration on global issues.” And honestly? Why is that? What other industry holds this type of expectation?
Other influencers highlighted all the work they do behind the phone screen. “You think just because someone reposted a meme that they’re doing hard work on the issue? We all have our strengths, and some of us prefer to do things quietly.” One joked that just because she didn’t post about Mother’s Day, it didn’t mean she didn’t love her mother. And on the public note, others shared anxiety about saying the wrong thing. “What if someone asked you to stand up in front of 30k people and talk about something? We all know something terrible is happening….I’m conflicted here and have typed and recorded so many thoughts and then deleted. I have such a fear of saying the wrong thing.”
On the note of speaking up about one issue and not the other, “selective activism” has really started to make its rounds. One influencer wrote, “by deeming ‘selective activism’ a negative thing, they’re causing people who are passionate and informed about something to shy away from sharing about it if they’re not as passionate/informed about everything.” And to take that point further, at what point do we just stop everything we are doing and talk about every tragedy and issue happening in the world right now? Where do we draw the line? Because believe you me, there is enough to talk about every day at every hour for the rest of eternity. And as one influencer put it, “we are not a news channel, stop treating us like one.”
One influencer wrote, “It’s literally not our job.” And I had to really sit and think about this. Why am I setting that expectation on someone else on THEIR page. Who am I, a non-paying consumer, to demand they talk about what I want to hear? And how do I even know that if they haven’t shared a meme, that it means they don’t care? How do I know what they’re dealing with behind closed doors? How do I know that they’re not already advocating for the very issue I’m demanding they speak about? The answer is I don’t. I don’t know.
Look, I struggled with this blog post. Mainly because I am someone that believes my platform is a privilege, and though my focus is on Design/DIY, I will continue to use it to spark thought and conversation on key issues. I understand the power of social media, and how so much positive change has happened through it over the years. I firmly believe, and this is something my mother has taught me at a young age, that is so important to be well rounded. To be able to carry a conversation about pop culture or design, and also know the history and politics around key issues. I want to set that example. We can all be better.
However, what I’ve learned, is that just because I don’t see something on social media, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Just because I don’t see an influencer share a meme in their stories, it doesn’t mean they don’t care, and it doesn’t mean they’re not having the conversations or doing the work privately. Some are learning privately, and perhaps struggling privately. And honestly? Not to ignore the elephant in the room here, some really just don’t give a sh*t. And you know what? That’s their prerogative, and that’s OK. The point is? It’s THEIR page. You don’t like the way someone is doing things? That unfollow button can be a beautiful thing.
I think we’ve slowly created this online culture where it’s become completely acceptable to pass judgements and attack people we know nothing about. We’ve become so demanding, and so entitled. People have gotten so comfortable spewing word vomit at complete strangers from behind their phone screens that I don’t think some of them realize they’re doing it anymore. As a reminder, judgment is not a form of activism. It may feel good to make assumptions and call influencers out, but it’s all wasted energy. And more importantly, none of that contributes to change.
If there is anything you take away from this post, it’s not that I’m condoning silence on key issues. It’s that activism has many forms, and it’s not always the loudest person making the most change. We all have different roles in this world and we all use the gifts that we were given. I’ll continue to be unapologetically vocal in stories about the issues I care about, but I know a few of my friends are doing great work behind the scenes on the issues they care deeply about. We all have issues we feel drawn towards, and you are not a bad person if you do not care about them all equally (or with the loudest voice).
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Feedback? Comment below, or email me: (Deema Tabbara Lopez) at firstname.lastname@example.org