What Roles Do Influencers Play in a Worldwide Protest Movement?
Amid global anti-racism protests, how can those with a large social media following help amplify Black voices?
As protests against police brutality sweep across the United States and spread around the globe, rallying cries of “Black Lives Matter” echo through our streets and digital lanes. While we digest the news and mull over how we can respond to and participate in the movement, it’s imperative to recognize what Black Lives Matter really means, as well as why racial justice and equity must be maintained now and forever.
Over the years, racism has evolved from a “Black and White” problem to the multi-cultural issue it is today. On social media, some have used the phrase “All Lives Matter” to suggest that this is a collective problem. It is, but we must not generalize, for the BAME communities are those most affected by racism and discrimination.
As Black Lives Matter becomes a worldwide protest movement, one-off, tokenistic actions are abundant on social media, as witnessed on #BlackOutTuesday. This phenomenon derives from the way media — with its mainstream approaches — tackles racism by influencing audiences with stereotypical, performative gestures.
Social media serves as an important and accessible tool for people to obtain and share information with the world. However, this convenience also has its disadvantages, as people become heavily reliant on these apps for news or to gain knowledge. The trend of social-sharing tends to leave a negative impression in the audience’s mind if it’s done with scarcity of thought. In a time when crisis permeates society, social media is as powerful as it can ever be, and it’s up to its users — including influencers with hundreds and thousands of followers — to use their online platforms responsibly.
The trend of social-sharing tends to leave a negative impression in the audience’s mind if it’s done with scarcity of thought.
“In this situation, I feel responsible to communicate, share and create consciousness and awareness about what’s happening and how we could act and educate ourselves,” comments Barcelona-born digital talent and influencer Marc Forné. For this movement not to be another fad, we must stick to a high degree of consciousness and eagerness to learn, in order to make this a long-lasting change. “It’s very delicate and complex but it is, above all, important to not stay silent,” Forné concludes.
Social media might be to blame for perpetuating racism with its algorithmic bias, but when people collectively use their online channels thoughtfully, the digital space can keep educational dialogues going and push the movement forward.
“Although I recognize it is not the responsibility of Black people to educate or provide free labor, I do believe personally that my voice is an important tool that can propel this movement within my community.” — Jess Lawrence
“As a Black content creator amongst a majority of White [influencers], I have not shied away from the responsibility of using my platform to express the personal, professional and societal systematic ways I, and others, have been affected by racism,” comments London-based social manager and influencer Jess Lawrence.
“I too have educated myself immensely, and will continue to, on the realities and ways to use this movement to see real change, via petitions, donations, education, protesting, etc,” Lawrence remarks. “Although I recognize it is not the responsibility of Black people to educate or provide free labor, I do believe personally that my voice is an important tool that can propel this movement within my community.”
She adds, “This as a first step should inspire accountability, in depth analysis of individual contributions to systemic racism and actions, plans and immediate revaluation of what [we can] do better going forward.” Indeed, change needs to come from a place of profound understanding.
We all have a part to play in this global movement and to contribute in the making of an equal society, free of oppressions of any kind. For model and digital talent Taylor Kae Knott, having a large following on Instagram comes with social responsibilities.
“I make sure that I present my audience with real facts, culture and the appropriate sources that come with it.” — Taylor Kae Knott
“Currently, the truth is being unveiled. The truth that systematic racism exists. We all have to educate ourselves, friends and family on the current climate of socio-political issues and the real history of our ancestors,” says the London-based creative. “It’s interesting to see the mainstream media alter and disfigure a cause that is meant to bring us all together. Together, we are discovering the puzzle pieces of history that have been completely disregarded and forgotten about.”
He expands on the importance of speaking up, doing proper research and discussing real-life issues online. “My platform is purely built on the foundation of expression, passion, exchange and love. At all times, I make sure that I present my audience with real facts, culture and the appropriate sources that come with it. I have been using my platform to communicate my support for Black Lives Matter and to spread awareness.”
Knott perhaps sums it up best: “We have to go back in time. There are missing pieces of history and fragments that have been swept under the carpet, which have led to the indoctrination and desensitization of our current society.” We have a choice to learn and to have a clearer understanding of what the problem is, instead of believing everything that media reports state.
We have work to do, and those with a platform needs to lead by example. Continue to educate ourselves in our everyday life, to have difficult conversations on and offline, and to be committed to fighting racism in our community and spheres of influence.
Chidozie Obasi is a UK-based journalist, reporter and writer. His editorial roles specialize in trends, fashion, entertainment and cultural affairs. Working across news and features, Obasi has compiled in-depth pieces and short reads on a variety of subjects, ranging from social activism to game-changing supermodels. You can connect with Obasi on Instagram and his website.