One positive aspect of today’s rapid news cycle is the ability to find out about virtually any event occurring anywhere at any time. From Twitter bots to renowned news anchors, virtually any narrative can be shared through the media that can spark meaningful discussion or ignite raging arguments. While the thoughts and opinions of an average social media user may not necessarily send shockwaves through the internet, words from celebrities often seem to carry a heavier weight. However, there can come a point where speaking out about an issue to a large platform can actually do more harm than good.
Amassing millions of followers through social media allows for the privilege of being able to spread awareness and even generate substantial change. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, who speaks out about criminal justice reform, or Leonardo DiCaprio, who advocates for climate change action, have found their niche when it comes to using their platforms for advocacy. Although these celebrities seem to continuously educate themselves about such subjects, when it comes to more contentious issues, those with large platforms usually shy away from potentially causing controversy or jeopardizing their image.
Just a few months ago, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heightened to the point where mass media attention was brought to the ongoing violent attacks and civilian deaths. Politically, like many of today’s issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a point of controversy and uncertainty, likely contributing to the main reason behind relatively few celebrities and influencers speaking out about the severe injustices. Notably, a number of celebrities made public statements simply calling for peace on both sides while avoiding further details. When it comes to emotionally heavy issues, it certainly is easy to become frustrated with those who do not use their platform to shed light on such important issues.
For a while, I myself believed that any person with a substantial platform had the obligation to speak out about injustices affecting innocent people. Then I realized that while calling awareness to a certain issue is important, it is also an easy way to unintentionally spread false information or harmful narratives, especially when the general public is not well informed about the issue in the first place. In the age of social media, it becomes easy to unintentionally spread misinformation by simply posting an edited image or sharing a story taken out of context. Once posted for millions to see, it becomes difficult to take back whatever message was originally put forward. The fear of posting or saying something insensitive or just incorrect often deters celebrities and public figures from making definitive statements. Even though celebrities like Rihanna faced backlash for their neutral stances on the historically complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s understandable why neutrality is the most opted route to take for so many. It would be unrealistic to expect anybody, especially one without any previous background, to thoroughly understand all of the complexities of a single issue. While taking the steps to educate oneself is certainly important in the world we live in today, it does not always warrant a statement to the public.
Frankly, when it comes to a lot of multilayered issues, statements from actors, musicians or athletes should not carry an immense amount of weight in the public eye. This is not to say that statements from these individuals are meritless, but that instead of listening to a celebrity, who in most cases is just as educated on a particular topic as the average citizen, it is more worthwhile to listen to those who better understand the topic at hand. While those with influential platforms should continue to educate themselves and speak out about what they wish to call attention to, as part of the public, we should not put so much weight on celebrity opinions.
One solution to combat the spread of misinformation while making use of massive platforms is having celebrities and public figures share their platforms with those more knowledgeable about the issue in question. Through directing their millions of followers to reliable sources, the spread of harmful and false information is limited while still bringing light to the issue to millions of followers. If the right steps are taken to realize who is in a better position to inform others, celebrities and public figures have the opportunity to make use of their platforms in a productive way.
Sana Malik is a senior double-majoring in biology and philosophy, politics and law.