This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
My Instagram feed looks like two different Americas
Happy new year! I hate to kick off our first newsletter of 2021 by writing about an attempted COUP D’ÉTAT, but here we are.
The violent takeover at the US Capitol on Wednesday was so historic that, on social media, it felt important to note who was going on with business as usual as well as who was talking about it.
My feed was particularly strange on Instagram. It felt like wafting through two different Americas, which is probably indicative of the state of the country right now. The influencers who have been vocal about sociopolitical issues, like dancer Donté Colley and model Tess Holliday, continued to speak out. Lifestyle and parenting influencer (and Susan Sarandon’s daughter) Eva Amurri (@thehappilyeva), like other influencers, has been more outspoken since last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
“Our children are watching,” Amurri began her long Instagram caption under a photo of her three children, whom she posts images of often. “Maybe they haven’t all seen today’s news, but they watch every day how we as a society work, how we handle adversity, and how we respect our century long processes of democracy.”
Amurri continued and called the attack “a sobering and infuriating example of Privilege that underscored even further the long road ahead of us as a nation.”
When I reached out to Amurri, she said the Black Lives Matter marches last summer did make her more aware of the power she had on her platform.
"While I can't speak for anybody else, if there's one thing that the BLM movement has taught me, it's that if I am not working towards being a part of the change, then I am complicit," she said. "I also have realized that not speaking up feels worse."
"It's time to normalize caring about these issues."
Even TikTok gossip channel @DefNoodles heavily covered the event at Congress as it unfurled.
The other posts on my feed were business as usual: giveaway sprees, LikeToKnowIt links, and other on-brand content like at-home workouts and smoothie recipes. I couldn’t help but think about this tweet from @AmberNoelle that addresses this American phenomenon pretty well:
However, it was also interesting to observe how fans responded to these posts. Most followers also behaved like it was business as usual: commenting heart-eyes emojis and other adoring sentiments. But some people, like in this post below from yogi Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl), felt like they had to remind their faves to read the room.
Rachel shared a nice photo of herself on a yoga mat, writing, “Remember: you are exactly one supported child’s pose away from feeling better❤️ (or, at least I was today. It doesn’t work every day. It works most days. Yoga is a good remedy to reach for if today has been hard. Give it a try!”
A commenter responded, “I like the sentiment of this post but unfortunately today is a nightmare that child’s pose can’t fix.”
Brathen told me she's non-American and currently living in Aruba, so she does not "live and breathe by the news that unfold in every other country in the world." Despite having many American followers, she does not believe it is her responsibility to be "in tune" with the country's major events. She had no idea what happened at the Capitol at the time that she shared her post.
"What’s going on in the USA right now is truly awful, but demanding of non-US based influencers to be in tune with the American news cycle in real time is not realistic," she said. "I shared several story posts about the riots the moment I found out, and have been continuously vocal about the injustice that has been unfolding for the past years."
Last summer, during the Black Lives Matter protests, I realized how low my standards had been for famous people online. I had expected many of them to stay mum. I gave cookies to anyone who was willing to put their usual business on hold to talk about this seminal moment in the country’s history and to confront its deep-seated issues. That standard is abysmally low, and that is a very sad reality!
I think we’re starting to challenge those expectations. Influencers are consistently criticized for not having a job or skill that’s made them famous, which I’ve never thought is very fair to them. The unique job of an influencer is to present a version of themself that people relate or aspire to. If they can profit from this skill by selling merchandise and scoring huge partnership deals with other companies, then they should assume some of the responsibility of being the kind of person who sets a good example.
Of course, everyone’s “good” values are subjective. But in this case, I hope we can all agree that it would be unanimously good to address and denounce the violent takeover at the Capitol that made a mockery of our democracy.
Amurri agreed. "I do think that the two-dimensional Influencer is over and done with. The consumer is too smart for that," she said.
She added that a "pretty facade" can only sustain an influencer's account for so long.
"I think that trust is everything when it comes to influencer culture, and nobody trusts somebody who talks out of both sides of their face. Or worse, not at all."
We’re making progress, however slowly. I’m no longer rewarding social media posts with cookies or brownies, but participation should be acknowledged. At the same time, the silence you see should also be noted. Things are bubbling over politically, but people’s behaviors have never been clearer.
Influencers and celebrities addressing important issues will always be a little prickly, sometimes hilarious, and often awkward. But it’s a start?
(Lol, thank you, Charli.)
Until next time,