Influencers: new celebrities or prominent activists?
Illustration: Skyla Baily

Who would have thought it? Instead of working in a PR firm, or a hairdressing salon, one can now earn money, sustain a living, and create a fan base through being an online influencer. In fact, for many young people who may idolise certain pop culture icons, many of these influencers do not come from television shows or films anymore, but rather social media. Social media has given us not only a platform to post, share and create, but also a chance to redefine what it means to be a celebrity. 

No matter what platform one may be a ‘celebrity’ on, there is still a notion that celebrities and influencers should have an obligation to report and show interest in social issues. Often, those whose lives can be disconnected from most people’s everyday experiences should show at least an acute awareness of global events or social movements that are happening. It seems that this idea is becoming more and more apparent, and has created a discussion that has never been more needed until now. 

The way we view and gain access to news has completely changed. Gone are the days where a broadsheet would be read over breakfast or the five o’clock bulletin was the only time to catch the evening news. Instant notifications via news apps and following politics on social media means that we can always hear the latest news—no matter where we are in the world, no matter the time. 

It certainly makes sense for social media influencers to harness the audience on their chosen platform to educate and bring to light many issues which their following may not be aware of. This is particularly important for those with a young following, such as teenagers and young adults. If we want to have an active voice and try to understand the mechanics of the world, then those with a mass following should drive this forward. They have the followers; they have a platform and they have the recognition. They should use this for good. 

Of course, those who disagree could say that these influencers may not have enough knowledge to share about the chosen topics. However, many social activists themselves have become social media influencers in their own right. Take the Black Lives Matter London protests for example. It was Instagram and Twitter users that helped to start the protests themselves.

These accounts also offered information about how to be a good white ally; funds which one can donate to and weekly updates about those who may have been injured in such protests. These activists can be found on most social media platforms. It just takes just one influencer to ‘repost’ their information for millions to see. Instagram has made ‘reposting’ such an easy task, that there is no hard work involved for the influencer at all. Simply tap some icons on a phone and millions of people have viewed their post. It has never been easier for people to learn about social injustice and if these influencers want to remain an active part of social media, they need to be an active part of wider life as well.

Now we all have such rapid access to news and a variety of sources, there is no excuse to be uneducated. You could question whether it’s appropriate for influencers to become political, yet there is no such thing as just being political anymore. Instead, there are those who use their platform and choose to educate themselves and those who stay quiet. Education is apolitical. To stay quiet is to bystand and can often exacerbate the issues. If influencers choose to not post or to remain passive, not only can they add to the problem, but their silence perpetuates the privilege they already have. 

For example, Jacob Sartorius – a white, 17-year-old internet personality, has shown interest and engaged with the issues of black injustices through Instagram. By simply ‘reposting’ images from black educators, he may just be clicking a few buttons, but he is doing so much more than that. He is showing his 9.3 million Instagram followers how to help, how to raise awareness and get actively involved. Remember, he is not the educator, he is simply bringing to light the issues that are occurring and using his platform to do so. With a fan base of mainly teenage girls, who perhaps would not have heard about the Black Lives Matter movement before his engagement with it, he has now shown them how to get involved. Instagram also has a system where if someone ‘reposts’ in image, others can see the original social media account where the image itself was created. By sharing images like this, Sartorius has led his 9.3 million followers to the original account, where they can learn more about the issue. 

Influencers have adapted to technology and they must adapt to change as well. With information literally at our fingertips, there is no excuse to not be educated anymore – especially those who have such a vital and key position in the sharing of this information in the first place.