As the world watches the violent oppression of the Palestinian people, the discourse on social media has naturally become more political. From infographics and articles to videos, people are using their online voices to support the Palestinians.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen how powerful social media can be in terms of the sharing of political content. Social media has played a big role in the way we see and speak about social issues.
Last year we saw a heap of political content being discussed online. #StopAsianHate highlighted the increase in global hate crimes against people of Asian heritage. #Endsars shed light on police brutality in Nigeria. The death of George Floyd led to global mourning, a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and a huge online takeover with the hashtag #blackouttuesday.
Since then, an increasing number of celebrities and influencers have spoken out against social injustices. Celebrities such as Bella and Gigi Hadid (whose father is of Palestinian origin) and Viola Davis have recently shown their support for Palestinians. However, while some are being vocal, others have remained quiet.
When a social issue becomes a topical discussion, there’s an expectation for everyone to use their platform to spread awareness. The phrase “silence is compliance” was used heavily online after the death of George Floyd, to highlight the importance of using your platform. Through this, it felt like everyone had a duty to let their voice be heard, especially people with large followings on social media.
If a celebrity or an influencer stays silent, the world instantly becomes critical of that. Though I believe people with large followings should speak out about social issues, I also think that it isn’t their duty to do so.
In the case of the Palestinian situation, for some people this may be the first time they’ve heard about the conflict. Forcing people with little knowledge of a social issue to post political content can lead to a spread of misinformation. When people are sharing infographics, they usually aren’t fact-checking them (especially if they had little to no knowledge about the topic before it became popular). With issues such as racism, you can’t learn enough overnight. Celebrities like the Hadids have more knowledge and should amplify that knowledge; others don’t have the range and should, perhaps, remain quiet.
There’s also the issue of people with influence sharing an opinion you don’t agree with. Rihanna received criticism after posting a statement about the events in Gaza on her Instagram, as it was perceived as a neutral take on the topic. Gal Gadot also received backlash after posting her statement, which essentially looked like she was siding with Israel. (Gadot though is Israeli, so, again, she has more information on this topic compared to other celebrities.)
Just because a celebrity speaks out about a cause it doesn’t mean they’ll share the same opinion as you. Do you still want people with influence to speak out if they disagree with your point of view?
Additionally, forcing a group of people who haven’t expressed an interest in social issues to post political content can encourage performative allyship. If influencers are only posting political content because they’ve been told to, it means they’re posting out of obligation rather than desire, which is performative.
Last year, we saw people with influence posting black squares and “how to help” content relating to the death of George Floyd. I’m sure if you asked most of those influencers what they’ve done to support the cause since then, they wouldn’t be able to give you an answer.
How would you feel if your favourite celebrity shared a post about something they didn’t believe in? Would you be happy because the post has reached millions of people? I’d rather influencers take their time to learn about an issue rather than posting something for the sake of it.
When people ask influencers or celebrities to voice their opinion on an issue, it tends to be a request directed at those who aren’t openly political. I don’t think we should expect people who haven’t expressed an interest in these issues to suddenly share political content. Unless a celebrity or influencer is known for their involvement in politics, they shouldn’t be roped into sharing political content. Some celebrities and influencers openly speak about these things. These are the people we should look to for social commentary.
As a journalist, I know the importance of using my platform to inform and educate others. I entered this field because I wanted to write stories related to politics and social issues, but this isn’t the case for all journalists. The same goes for celebrities and influencers.
I want people to care about the things I’m passionate about but I know that it’s a personal journey. I can’t force people I don’t know to speak about something they have little knowledge about. Do I think everyone should use their platform to speak about social issues? Yes – but it should come from a place of empathy rather than obligation.