Mayuri Gadi (she/her)
We are currently witnessing a new age of activism as our reliance on social media for politically related information constantly increases. Due to the immensity and variety of information circulating the internet, many have started to look towards ‘influencers’ to take upon the role of guiding us through what we are exposed to online. However, is this trust we have found in them as a primary source of knowledge appropriate when they too are still learning about both themselves and political causes? Do they really have much authenticity, or do we mostly see a persona orchestrated by management teams who are keen to make a profit?
We can’t ignore the inevitable advantages of activism through social media. The discussion of stories from around the world which would not normally be spotlighted in our conventional media is remarkable. Moreover, this outlet allows us to connect with others around the world, building relationships which are increasingly important in the uncertain environment we live in. They provide an assurance that certain news outlets are unable to produce due to their affiliations with large corporations and governments.
However, with so much taking place behind a screen, it is necessary to question the intentions of many influencers. The main driving force behind the rising popularity of influencers has been the aesthetic they provide their audience, showcasing a dream lifestyle that is pleasing to the eye. An increased focus on this has resulted in the creation of the ‘activist-influencer’: a social media personality who posts aesthetically pleasing infographics regarding political movements.
But maybe these influencers should give pause for thought. Are the posts they share in the hope of leading social change? Or is the aim to gain followers by taking advantage of movements? The depth of information they provide is limited, and the complexities of issues can often be ignored. During the BLM movement in 2020, we witnessed this debate as the term ‘performative activism’ was used increasingly. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLM in Los Angeles, described the concept as individuals and organisations ‘getting the so-called glory of activism without having to pay any price’. Through reposting black squares and participating in challenges, many influencers believed they had effectively deployed their platform and privilege. What they remarkably failed to understand is that racism cannot be solved through an Instagram challenge. The inevitable social media burnout which gradually followed resulted in the movement losing its momentum and influencers returning to their regular aesthetic lifestyle posts.
Nonetheless, should we even be condemning these individuals? After all, is it not the management teams and publishing houses behind the screen fuelling the ‘activist-influencer’ type. Moya Lothian McLean addresses this superbly by looking at the clash between popular ‘feminist influencers’ Florence Given and Chidera Eggerue. She highlights the inevitable reality of agencies constantly churning out new feminist voices to profit from, irrespective of the damage it causes their personal growth. These faceless managers don’t bear the brunt of trolling and cancel culture. Many influencers are still young and have not experienced enough political development to maintain such a huge fan base and responsibility. Just like all young people, they are bound to constantly make mistakes – which they can then learn from. It is therefore unhealthy to hold them to such a high standard, potentially ruining their career before it has even started.
Rather than allowing these agencies to commodify them, influencers should be directing us to appropriate activists or organisations who are properly and responsibly educating people. Being both an activist and influencer is a huge responsibility that many of these individuals are not ready for or in a position to effectively use. If they are not campaigning, the title of activist should not be associated with them. Simply having a big following does not automatically make anyone a trustworthy source.
With so much misinformation present on social media, narratives are constantly being changed and obscured. It’s very easy for us to get caught up in the fast-paced nature of the online world and make decisions before even thinking. McLean urges us as consumers to be more careful about what media we interact with, and take it upon ourselves to recognise true activists as genuine sources of information. However, social media should not be our only tool for activism; there is so much more to achieve by taking action. After all, if we only sit and stare at our screens, who are we to condemn and cancel others ?
Genuine activists the contributor would like to highlight:
(all instagram accounts)