To post or not to post? That’s the dilemma facing celebrities following the latest brutal developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past few weeks, which have provoked widespread horror and grief intensified by a complex and nuanced political history.
More often than not, celebrities who post end up sharing misinformation. In a since-deleted Instagram post, Kylie Jenner sparked controversy with a pro-Israel message, leading fans to question her political aptitude and whether she should publicly engage in such social issues. Neutral and heavily censored language is also commonly used in response to such sensitive global affairs, in a bid to avoid getting “cancelled”. This implies caving to social pressure, such as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s recent Instagram post: “I don’t pretend to know everything about the complex conflict in the Middle East. It commands deep understanding, context and nuance”.
The ultimate question, then, is why do celebrities feel they must make statements on political issues when they are often disengaged and poorly informed? It’s part of a wider practice of slacktivism: the increased trend of supporting a social or political cause through social media, often to improve public image, characterised by little genuine commitment to the issue.
Critics of slacktivism point to events such as #blackouttuesday, which took place in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Despite engagement with 28 million accounts, many argued that it drowned out more important activist voices on social media, interrupting the distribution of vital information relevant to ongoing protests.
Other critics point more generally to celebrities’ half-hearted, superficial political participation, typically due to self-interest so as not to hinder public perception of them. If celebs used their platforms with millions of followers to promote grassroots organisations and fundraising options, as well as making personal donations, it would provide some form of justification for their posts. Moreover, failure to post is not synonymous with a lack of support. The silence of the Hadid sisters (whose Palestinian father has openly campaigned for years in support of Palestine) following recent Israel-Palestine developments symbolises a disconnect between social media and real-world activism: posting is not always a necessary response to complex global developments.
On the other hand, many support the motivations behind slacktivism. Social media has become a crucial means of global information distribution, especially amongst young people, with 41% of 18–24-year-olds using platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as their primary news sources. Re-posting information regarding current and past political affairs is a realistic way to mobilise support through accessible means, whether that be donations or involvement with protests and events. Celebrities can use their social followings to promote activist organisations and most significantly, drive donations to certain causes. A great example of this is Taylor Swift’s music video for ‘You Need to Calm Down’, which sparked a mass increase of $13 in donations to the LGBTQ+ charity GLAAD.
Overall, whilst all forms of online activism can generate conversation, donations and awareness, the issues with slacktivism tend to arise from its superficiality. Direct action, whether financial or otherwise, always creates more meaningful change, and celebrities should support their stances by setting an example to their followers. Furthermore, they should not cave to public pressure demanding their views and opinions on certain issues, as this can spread misinformation or propaganda, adding fuel to an already scorching fire. In an era of cancel culture, with performance activism rife, sometimes the most effective response for disengaged celebrities is to post nothing at all, and instead educate themselves on how to set an example for impressionable followers.
Edited by: Eva Doherty