Do Influencers Have a Social Responsibility?

11.07.2017 Career & Finance
Michelle Pellizzon
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My phone has a split personality.

I regularly wake up to a flurry of push notifications from sites like CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times, virtually shouting doomsday-like headlines through my iPhone screen. My email inbox is updated throughout the day with the most up-to-date information on stories like health care reform, immigration legislature and the status of refugee advocacy in the U.S.

Like most people I know, I stay informed on what’s happening in the world through my digital lifeline — it’s rare that I turn on the television to learn about a breaking news event. It’s easier and usually more effective to hop on Twitter or Facebook after getting an instantaneous ping from Apple News. For all intents and purposes, I’m informed. But then I open up my favorite app, Instagram, and it’s like I’m transported to an alternate universe.

My feed is filled with photos and videos from hundreds of my friends, coworkers, favorite brands and the odd celebrity. But my favorite accounts, of course, are the handful of wellness “influencers” I follow — and that’s when the ‘gram overflows with rainbow filtered images… and brightly colored smoothies… and creamy green matcha lattes poured into beautiful ceramic mugs while a Drake song plays in the background! In this world — Instagram’s Planet Wellness — the biggest problem that could possibly come up is when you accidentally spill your golden mylk latte on your new off-white Outdoor Voices leggings. Aw, shilajit!

Next to fashion bloggers and hot girls in bikinis, health and wellness accounts are one of the most popular subcategories on Instagram.

As a result, there are plenty of wellness influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers who watch and ‘like’ their every move, 24/7. These people — typically millennial-aged caucasian women — speak to their followers about their personal experiences on everything from clean eating to veganism to exercise to child rearing. They give advice, tips and tricks in an attempt to help their followers live their best lives.

Generally, they are well-meaning and enthusiastic. They are the picture of health and wellness! They make their own almond milk, for godsakes. I can only assume that, like me, their other hundred thousand followers enjoy curiously peeking at what weird snacks they’re making, hearing about the latest wellness trends they’re trying and living vicariously through their extremely healthy and seemingly well-balanced lives. But I also really love following these influencers because they seem to have a genuinely altruistic purpose — they truly want everyone to live healthier and happier lives and for the world to be a better place. Their passion is contagious… which is probably why they’ve built such rabid followings.

Something changed for me, though, a few months ago. I woke up one morning to an infinite scroll of breaking news — a polarizing political statement on refugees and immigration had been delivered by the current presidential administration.

Toggling between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to gather as much information from both reliable news sources and opinionated friends, I noticed a serious void: my favorite wellness influencers were completely silent.

They poured their usual bulletproof-style lattes, vlogged about their super sweaty Soulcycle workouts and displayed artfully crafted grain bowls. Some even posted poetically lyrical captions and memes about following your heart and ‘living your soul’s purpose.’ But not a single mention about supporting innocent refugees who’d just been shut out of the United States.

At first, I thought maybe I was just being sensitive. After all, just because something like refugee advocacy is important to me doesn’t mean it resonates with everyone. And, hey, if your thing is vegan smoothies, I get that it might not be in your ‘“narrative” to talk about human rights. #offbrand.

But as I simmered on it — and while more important political policy and world events transpired without even a nod from these digital influencers — I realized that many of the people I followed did have a strong political stance.

Most of these influencers — who are mostly white, middle class women who can feasibly afford $16 jars of ghee and a 16-ounce, $36 probiotic coconut yogurt — are happy to share their opinions on how detrimental fast fashion is for the environment, but avoid talking about the actual reality of global warming. They discuss the merits of using only organic cleaning supplies at home and espouse that everyone should switch to green products, but fail to mention or acknowledge that some people in Flint, Michigan are still struggling to find clean water. They talk about spreading love and wear soft cotton shirts with GOOD VIBES plastered across their chests, but don’t speak out when hate crimes are reported in the news.

Listen, I get it. These people preach mindfulness, wellness and health — not political activism.

But if you really believe in making health more accessible to everyone, or in making the world a better place, isn’t it necessary to lift your head up and see what’s happening around the world? Doesn’t activism, or at least advocacy, go hand-in-hand with changing the world for the better?

I’m not saying you need to start a revolution… but with such a massive platform, social influencers at least have a responsibility to facilitate a conversation.

It doesn’t need to be divisive. Simply shedding a light on what’s happening in the United States and around the world, encouraging followers to read the news and form their own opinions and showing compassion for those in need — like the people of Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria — could really make a difference.

Whether they like it or not, mega-influencers are leaders. It’s time we encouraged them to step into that role. So here it is: Dear influencers, use your power for good. Take a stand for something… even if it means you may lose a few followers.

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