Four Rules for Influencers Posting During Protests
If the global viral pandemic altered the way influencers delivered content, the wave of protests brought on by the killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd brought it to a full stop. For the past week, selfies, product endorsements, and frivolous live videos of us doing nothing in the house have taken on a completely moot tone as the country’s uproar about the treatment of Black people has grown louder and louder. The demands for justice have flooded social media. Swipe up links to dresses, shoes, and skincare have been replaced with petitions and fundraisers. The role of influencers in our culture is often up for debate, but this week, audiences have made it crystal clear that they expect influencers to utilize their platforms to speak up.
The demand for people to use their platforms to speak up was almost instantaneous. I saw influencers invoking Audre Lorde’s infamous quote: “Your silence will not protect you,” as a challenge to their peers. And while so many people have accepted that challenge—and others never needed to be galvanized in the first place—it’s worth talking through how we should be showing up in moments like this.
While the officers who were involved in Floyd’s death have all been charged, which was one of the outcomes protestors hoped for, it’s too soon to assume that the moment has passed—or we won’t soon see another like it again. Here are some best practices for using your platform to encourage positive change.
Make your messages intentional and actionable
Now is not the time to be vague. We want to know exactly how you stand on these issues. Quoting the late Martin Luther King Jr. or using edited photos of the police in front of your store can easily be misinterpreted. Don’t say “people of color” when you mean Black. We don’t need baseless calls for unity, color blind diversity quotes, or fake allies who are more concerned with not rocking the boat. Whatever you post, say it with your chest.
But if you think your participation in this movement is about an original or reposted graphic, and that’s it, you’re already headed in the wrong direction. Right now, we need more than empty words and promises. People don’t care what you think or what you have to say about Black lives, they want to know what you’re going to do to help them. We don’t need more education or awareness. This is especially true for non-Black influencers of colors. It’s non-negotiable for white influencers who are allies, since racism is a product of white supremacy. You should be donating, giving up resources, offering your time, and fundraising.
Get plugged in
As influencers, the impulse is to use our audience and marketing chops. But don’t just jump into the fray. Do some research to figure out exactly what is needed and where. My advice is to always start at home. If there are local protests happening in your area, figure out how you can participate or support those who are. Give supplies. What civic actions can you take? Perhaps you should be making calls or sending emails to your local elected officials and sharing information for your audience to do the same. I know that images of protest, direct action, and rioting look chaotic, but there are people whose entire jobs are to strategically organize in real life, and online.
Consider this week’s “Blackout Tuesday” initiative. It was started by two Black women in music to suspend business as usual in their industry while Black folks continue to die. It made sense, and the sentiment translated into the social media space where everyone wanted a brief pause on personal posts that didn’t reflect the severity of the moment. The campaign, which was co-opted into #BlackoutTuesday, quickly backfired when social media users began flooding Instagram with black squares, many tagged #blacklivesmatter. Activists pointed out that the posts would drown out vital information about resources and resistance efforts. Others, who assumed #BlackoutTuesday was calling for a day of silence, argued that silence was counterproductive in this pivotal moment. The lack of cohesion could have been avoided if the creators had aligned with organizers on the ground.
Take note of your privilege and use it wisely
I’ve already addressed racial privilege, but class privilege is also real. If your Instagram feed is chock full of Chanel bags and Christian Louboutins, the only thing your followers want to see are receipts from your donation.
Virgil Abloh, the Kanye-cosigned fashion designer responsible for Off-White, was dragged all over Twitter after he not only criticized looting, but posted a screenshot of a measly $50 bail fund donation. For context, the cheapest t-shirt at Off-White is $235. Abloh is also the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear line. He designed one of Hailey Baldwin’s wedding dresses. It’s safe to say that he is not lacking in funds, so his policing of property damage and seemingly dismal charity efforts rang particularly tone deaf. He has since apologized and clarified that he’s actually donated over $20,000 to various bailout funds.
Read YOUR room
Have you ever been accused of racism or cultural appropriation? Have you ever worked with a brand that has? Consider Kylie Jenner, who is arguably one of the biggest influencers in the world. On multiple occasions she has been called out for being a culture-vulture and insensitive to issues of race. Her entire brand has been built on the aesthetic of Black women and her proximity to Black men. It’s made her hundreds of millions of dollars (and a bogus spot on the Forbes billionaire list). This is why, in her case, retweets simply aren’t enough.
And if you don’t support the protests, or have concluded that the fight for Black lives is somehow a threat to the sanctity of “all lives,” there is also something you can do: absolutely nothing.