I’ve been mulling this post over in my head for a few months but its only now since I’ve been implementing my #6pmswitchoff that I’ve actually been able to properly formulate my thoughts, with some silence from social media and real life thinking and being.
I want to talk about a phenomenon on Instagram I’m seeing a lot around “calling people out” and “using our voice”. It’s fascinating and terrifying all in one go. It’s happening to Influencers with large followings, individuals with a handful of followers, small brands, big brands – no one is immune to having their handle splashed across someone elses’ feed, their Story reshared, their DM screenshot… I’ve done it myself (see below for more on how that went…), and I’ve had it done to me.
And I’ll be honest, I’m tired of it.
I’m tired of seeing Stories of Stories (and these could not be further from the ones we tell around the campfire or to our kids at night. The name “Stories” is actually kinda dark, now I think about it…) with peoples’ names scrubbed out (or sometimes not), of seeing emoticons and polls scattered around other peoples’ words, of seeing people slag off other people straight down their camera phone. Or just swear about them. I’ve seen that too.
But here’s the important part: it’s ok to have an opinion! It’s great to have an opinion! I’m absolutely not saying people shouldn’t have an opinion or a voice or criticise (and more over, mostly I agree with whatever I see being criticised), but it’s the way I see people going about it on social media that makes me feel so uncomfortable. Is there another less playground, and crucially more effective, way to share a difference of opinion and bring about social change? Send that person an email. Comment (calmly and respectfully) underneath their photo. Land in their DM inbox. Start a petition. Do something more positive. Or maybe, just maybe, quietly unfollow. As one of my followers once wrote after someone declared on my feed they were unfollowing me, “this is not a dinner party, you do not have to say goodbye.”
It has to be added that if you’re an Influencer earning money from the platform, there’s a responsibility that comes with the job, especially if like me, your focus is an ethical or sustainable one. When I started moving my focus towards this sort of content which was probably around the start of 2018 and I ran the Plastic Free Parent campaign, I never even considered the idea of earning money from it. I was still working in my corporate job. It was only later that year I took the plunge to leave my company.
Now I’m weighing up who to work with – an unexpected and often, heavy situation to be in. And it can be tricky and it can be blurry. And it’s not just about paid sponsorships; I’ve been criticised for flying, for having another baby, for eating animals, for using dummies. You name it, people have an opinion. And I get that – I’m putting myself in a public space, out there. But that’s for another blog post….
But this isn’t a post about me; it’s about a culture I’m seeing evolve on social media. Plus I’m fortunate to have been a victim of this phenomenon of “calling out” only 3 times (that was enough to leave me feeling numb for weeks on end). I’ve had amazing interactions with followers over email and private DM which have provoked interesting debate and constructive change in me which could not be more different to watching a 15 second video of someone very obviously slagging me off.
Because here’s the thing, right. Instagram is great. It gives us all a space to share a few nice photos and some thoughts with a community we’re fostering in one form or another. It feels like we know people, but we actually don’t (I wish I could know so many of my followers). Do we know the small business owner behind a brand or the teenager behind the beauty Influencer? Do we know what their hustle is? Do we know their struggle? Because we know that they have struggles (everyone does). What we forget is that they’re just different to yours. And crucially, everyone is on their own journey – I just ask that we think about that before judging. So yes, there’s campaigns you (and I) might disagree with. Really seemingly pointless campaigns. But is splashing their names and faces across our social media and shaming them in something that resembles an online public hanging really the way we as adults want to behave? (A polite comment or questioning, sure). And what’s more, why are we doing it? Surely there’s something psychological going on here… is it just a point we want to get across, that we feel passionately about? Or does it create buzz around our account? Does it do something to our ego?
I want to add that I acknowledge that there are people whose entire lives revolve around a particular mission – and I fully respect that. But I think it’s even important for those people to acknowledge that not everyone might be living their mission..I came close to that territory about a year ago when I was going through a particular fervent stage regarding reusable nappies and “called out” one eco disposable brand. I quickly questioned myself – what was going on in my head to make me do that? I’ve since emailed to apologise and we had a really interesting conversation as a result.
My motto with the online space is very much “you do you, and I’ll do me”. I try to lead by example, without putting anyone else down. I focus on my own goals, my own habits, and if I inspire people along the way, then that’s awesome.
What’s your take on this kinda murky, kinda blurry, kinda strange phenomenon taking place right now on social media?