Should people who have a large online platform comment on political events or become activists for a particular cause? Some would argue yes: Whether you’re amassing Instagram followers or picking up thousands of subscribers on YouTube, you’re obligated to say something about current events and take a stand. Preferably with the “right opinions,” whatever those happen to be.
But is this necessary or desirable?
In many cases, I think it would do more harm than good.
- People shouldn’t feel compelled to discuss a topic. For instance, if someone wants to post tons of awesome photos about gardening, just leave them to it. I can get political commentary elsewhere. There’s no shortage of political commentary online.
- The pressure to speak out about a topic is often driven by short-lived trends. It doesn’t account for what someone may care about most deeply. For example, an influencer may be dedicated to protecting endangered species in the Amazon Rain Forest. It’s a topic she’s eager to discuss. But it isn’t necessarily what’s trending on Twitter.
- People don’t have the time or inclination to research every topic that dominates the news cycle and social media. If they feel pressured to state an opinion, they’ll often just try to figure out what’s expected from them. The opinions they express aren’t necessarily based on careful analyses or facts. Most of the time, their main concern is to be socially acceptable and to not get piled on by some of the more fanatical activists. Also, if they’re pressured to comment on breaking news, they may wind up sharing rumors or lies.
- Following up on the third point, the pressure to speak out often results in superficial gestures. Those gestures mean little in the face of deep-rooted, long-standing problems. You insert a hashtag in one of your posts or chant a slogan at the end of a 15-minute video, and that becomes activism.
- I don’t think it’s good for our psychological health to have every channel, every forum, become a battleground for different political topics. If I’m looking for a drawing tutorial, or if I’m watching a video about how to keep plants alive indoors, I just want to focus on art or on nurturing plant life. Being plugged into political issues round-the-clock doesn’t help people become more effective citizens or advocates. If anything, immersion in social media can give people a skewed picture of a topic. It can also warp emotions, putting people in protracted states of rage or despair.
If people want to talk or write about a topic, they can. My concern is with the social pressures, the expectations that someone with a platform needs to use it to broadcast certain opinions. For multiple reasons, pressuring influencers (or anyone online) to take a stand often isn’t a good idea.