“The situation in the Ukraine is absolutely heartbreaking. My heart feels heavy for the people of Ukraine” read a statement posted on Instagram by Australian influencer and mental health advocate Olivia Rogers.
“However, just because I don’t post about it doesn’t mean I don’t care,” it continued. “I am far from being an expert on the subject, and people should not be relying on social media to stay updated on what is going on.”
It was the first time I had seen this acknowledged on Instagram. Empathy for a hideous situation, and a caveat this person is not an expert and should not be seen as such. I was shocked this was even necessary. Who is looking to the former Miss Australia for opinions on Putin’s vile aggression towards Ukraine?
Earlier in the week, British body positivity influencer Lottie Drynan shared a message from a fan asking why she wasn’t using her platform to draw attention to Ukraine. Her response from her was similar – an acknowledgment of her horror from her at the atrocities, but an indication she did not feel qualified to speak on the issue.
Both of these women work in the fashion and lifestyle space. Their presence on Instagram has garnered them a large following, which in turn means they’re suddenly held to account for all manner of things.
Whenever there is a social or political crisis in the world, people we turn to for outfit and beauty advice, light entertainment or lifestyle aspirations are expected to act like an expert on international issues. The cycle remains the same regardless of the situation.
An influencer gets “called out” for failing to speak on a global crisis, then they post one or two stories sharing their pain/horror/empathy, a few reposts of horrific imagery and then it’s back to normal posting. When fake news is already so rife on social media, who is this benefitting? Why are we expecting likely-unqualified people to add their voices to an already deafening cacophony?
Em Clarkson, another UK-based body positivity influencer and writer shared a story reading: “Thought of the day – your anger would be much better placed in the direction of the f****** megalomaniacs causing this war than influencers who are sharing things on their Instagram account that you don’t agree with to the f****** letter.”
She later added that she didn’t go to university (not that a university degree is required to understand socio-political issues) and knows “sweet f*** all about warfare”. Working in lifestyle spheres does not necessarily mean you’re ignorant about these issues, but foreign policy is usually not your area of professional expertise.
Piers Morgan, never one to miss an opportunity to take a swipe at Meghan Markle, shared her message of support to Ukraine with a snarky tweet reading “this will really rattle Putin”. You can be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
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Social media advocacy is performative at best. Influencers can certainly try: sharing Give a Little pages, posting news updates and infographics on how to help. But there is a fine line between raising awareness and being forced to post dubiously fact-checked information to appease an increasingly aggressive part of social media. The online world can be wonderful for bringing attention to social issues, but placing an expectation on “famous” people to comment can turn it into a box-ticking exercise. One post about the war before returning to our skin care routine.
Global issues are multifaceted and complex events that require endless reading and critical assessment to fully grasp. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has both a complicated history and a series of worrying potential knock-on effects. Luckily, there are trained, knowledgeable journalists both on the ground and in news rooms reporting on this.
There’s The Independent‘s own Kim Sengupta reporting from Kyiv. Our television screens show BBC’s Clive Myrie in a protective helmet and bulletproof vest speaking from a rooftop in the Ukrainian capital as air raid sirens ring in the background. Countless people are on the ground every day, interviewing Ukrainians and telling the stories of increasing Russian aggression. So why do we need Molly Mae to share an infographic from her home in Manchester?