Influencers and Activism
If you also spent too much time watching YouTubers in middle school, then the concept of a social media influencer isn’t necessarily new to you. However, with social media becoming increasingly dominant to our world, the past few years have seen what feels like an exponential rise in the number of influencers, and a transcendence across platforms. What once started as YouTube vlogging can now exist across Instagram stories, et cetera.
Across platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, many different new influencers have drawn in fans and success. There are a wide range of types of influencers, and it seems like many have found their unique niches of content and audiences. One feature, however, seems consistent among all different modes of content creation: being an influencer is, potentially, highly profitable.
Of course, making money on social media requires a pretty huge number of followers, and this is not to say that the job is necessarily easy. However, for those who have established a name for themselves within the influencer realm, the opportunities seem endless. Between brand deals, sponsorships, merchandise, collaborations, commercial appearances, products, and more, popular influencers see a large number of financial, social, and career opportunities.
However, with this capitalization of your social media presence comes the inherent pressure to maintain your likeability. For some influencers, this is not so much an issue, and they are very outspoken about their opinions and beliefs, even if it may be unpopular. On the other hand, some influencers stay silent about anything even remotely controversial for fear of losing their fanbases.
It seems fine that influencers should get to choose how much of their personal beliefs they disclose on social media. This becomes problematic, however, when social movements begin to take shape, and fans want to know the standards of the influencers they follow.
Oftentimes, when influencers are silent during moments that matter, their silence tells you everything you need to know. However, fans still tend to demand that creators dedicate some content towards it. The question then becomes: if an influencer shares something as a mere response to pressure to do so, does this have any effect?
On one hand, this “activism” takes a performative nature, aiming only to take the path of least resistance. For example, when an influencer posts their regular content during the presidential election, without encouraging fans to vote, they might experience hate comments. In turn, to quell the hate comments, this influencer might share a post about voting, even though their past silence indicates that voting was not all that important to them.
In other cases, there might be pressure on influencers to spread information about a topic they simply don’t know much about. Of course, we should all aim to be more aware of the issues happening in our world -but, there are certain cases where a simple lack of knowledge causes influencers to be silent on an important topic. In these cases, pressuring a figure to speak to a large audience on a topic they are not thoroughly engaged with seems like a recipe for creating misinformation and disaster.
It’s easy to think that, instead of trying to change influencers, we should just let them be. Then, we can choose who to support, and who not to support, just based off of our evaluations of their character and content.
However, we also have to keep in mind the earlier idea that the influencer job features so many potential avenues for monetization. For influencers who might not feel like they know enough about a topic to share their opinion, or for those who prefer to keep their personal opinions private -the best mode of activism seems to be redirection towards other resources and activists.
Personally, I think the best way to gage whether or not an influencer cares about the same causes that I do is how much they share resources, information, and places of donation from other sources. In short, that one influencer you follow does not know everything, and is not equipped to speak on every single social topic that comes up. However, what’s important is that they do not make social movements about them. Rather, the mark of a more genuine activist, influencer, and person is the way they use their platform to spark conversation, donation, and education.