My social media presence is relatively lacking. This is quite strange for me to say, as a Twitter handle, a Facebook page, two Instagram accounts, and a Snapchat is more than enough to have before a phone explodes. But digital media is, arguably, the center of almost every aspect of the world, with everything from relationships to the economy to education depending solely on this one tool. And for a new class of superstars, dubbed by us Gen Zers as “influencers,” the manipulation of social media is their career. This all being said, hopefully it is clear why I feel very behind the times with respect to my Internet presence.
From this angle, I often find myself critiquing the many issues of the online world in terms of the quality of life it instills for us. A remarkably clear example of the implications of an influencer is Saudi Arabia’s recent contraction of influencers to present a clean, positive society to a wide and young audience. The majestic shots of nature and the nation’s royalty omit the extreme violence and misogyny faced by citizens and the attacks perpetrated by the country itself.
Though Western media can at times misrepresent Saudi culture, it is clear that Saudi Arabia is immersed in a humanitarian crisis that cannot be solved by an influencer from L.A. Rather than mocking or downgrading influencers for their choice of profession (I do not necessarily hold them in poor regard), I am taking this opportunity to explain the wider danger of online platforms.
The idea of “all being well and fine” in a society or a particular person’s life can be perpetuated so easily. Full disclosure: I did not have a clue about the Saudi crisis until two days ago. Had I gone onto Instagram and scrolled through the Explore page then, I very well could have come upon one of the influencers’ posts and been subliminally convinced that Saudi Arabia is a stable place. Speaking more generally, it is temptingly easy to show the world what you want to show. Although cliché, this simple act has a hearty consequence. How can we possibly progress toward the good, in whatever form it takes, when all we have is a well-manicured digital wall? How might we let others into our lives and our stories if we are capturing, in several ways, a separate persona from the original?
The Saudi influencers problem brings up a bigger, more general issue. Can viewers be led to think that we have done our part for progression toward the good just through encapsulating a “good” social media personality? I would argue yes. Out of personal experience, it is incredibly satisfying to get the wording just right on an activism-centered Facebook post and receive comments of praise and support. It is also extremely simple to characterize one as a “woke warrior” simply after seeing links upon links to donation pages to environmental justice agencies. I am just as guilty as the next guy. While I definitely do think there is merit to using social media in these ways, there is something else lost in the process.
Learning about the influencers in Saudi Arabia has challenged me to monitor my digital presence and pushed me to live with more intention. If we all try to do this, I think everyone can live with greater purpose, attention, and advocacy for what is good.