Are you an influencer or a content creator that’s unsure of how to tackle huge current events or disasters when you have a large audience on social media? There’s no perfect way for an influencer to post about an impending war, a raging pandemic or a natural disaster, but there are certainly some simple things to consider to help you make your decision around if you should post, and if so, what to post, to ensure that your words and actions are helpful and not (accidentally) harmful.
From record COVID case numbers to devastating floods in Australia to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the first two months of 2022 certainly have not been quiet on the global news front. And in the age of social media, where many of us have a platform and the ability to reach thousands of people with the a quick tap of our index finger, it can be tricky to know how to navigate world events and disasters without saying or doing the wrong thing.
I’ve got to break it to you though: there is no right answer. There’s no way I can put together a simple Cosmo-style flowchart quiz to tell you when and what to post. The correct answer for you will totally depend on the event, your knowledge of the situation, your audience and your personal values. I’m sure that’s not what you want to hear so I’m sorry, but I hope you keep reading to gain some clarity and confidence in your own decision.
What I can tell you though, is a bunch of questions to ask yourself when you are considering what to post (or if you should post at all).
These questions are going to require some potentially uncomfortable self-reflection. You’ll need to check your privilege and examine your own subconscious motivations, and you might end up being a bit disappointed or maybe even embarrassed of how you’ve tackled these situations in the past, but it’s also a brilliant learning opportunity that will help you make the right decision (for you) next time.
As Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Let’s kick this off with a few important disclaimers.
1. People will be upset or disappointed no matter what you say or do. If you stay silent, some people will think you’re unaware or don’t care about what’s happening. If you include mentions of the event into your usual content, some people will interpret this as being insensitive. And if you speak about it too much, some people will be disappointed that your channel no longer provides them the escapism they followed you for. You’re never going to please everyone, so the most important thing is that you yourself are comfortable with the actions you do or do not take.
2. This blog is not meant to call out any specific influencers for what they’ve done in the past. I do mention some specific examples of behaviour to clearly demonstrate how these questions can help us use our platform appropriately, but I totally believe that people can learn and grow and change, and all of us simply have different values and different boundaries that we live by.
3. I’m writing this during day 5 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so obviously this is the situation at the forefront of my mind, but you can use these questions to help guide your decision around posting about any disaster or current event.
4. My final disclaimer is that this blog has a lot of disclaimers! I’m not an expert on any of this, I’m just trying to put my thoughts and feelings over the past week into words to help other creators navigating this weird situation we’re all in. Please understand that discussing any sort of disaster or human suffering is extremely difficult, there’s so many nuances to be aware of, terminology is sometimes tricky to get right, and I’m sure there’s parts of this blog that I’ll rewrite over and over again and still won’t get it 100% correct. But I’m trying!
Alright, with that out of the way, here are some things for influencers and content creators to think about when considering posting about a world crisis.
TLDR: To post or not to post?
At the time of writing this I’ve just spent HOURS researching, writing, fact-checking, editing, rewriting and reediting this blog post, and it’s sitting at a pretty hefty 5000+ words. What can I say, when I get into the swing of things!
I’m going to assume that if you’re a content creator like me, you’re probably slammed with multiple projects right now and don’t have time to sit and scroll for that long, so if you just want to know what questions you should be asking yourself then you can see them in the table of contents below.
If you want a deeper dive on any of the questions, simply click on the blue text and you’ll get taken to the full explanation, or if you truly want to listen to my rambling, feel free to scroll through at your own pace.
Should you post about it?
Whether it’s pressure from your followers or from yourself, I feel like I can confidently say that the vast majority of people with a social media audience have probably felt the pressure to post something on their channels when the world is dealing with some sort of tragedy. And it’s this pressure that can force us to post without thinking, which can cause far more harm than good.
To be very clear right at the beginning, you do not have to use your platform to spread awareness of every single thing that’s happening in the world. You are not a journalist. To act as one when you don’t have the same time, resources and education would be dangerous and irresponsible.
In saying that though, the influencer industry already holds negative connotations of people with huge platforms for no reason, so when people with thousands or millions of followers are silent on a huge topic that’s taking over the globe, it’s kind of perpetuating the stereotype that they only use their platform for things that benefit them, like selling detox teas or charcoal toothpaste. When we share the most mundane things of our lives, like what we had for breakfast or our daily gym session, it’s no wonder that not acknowledging a global crisis may come across as ignorance or indifference.
It’s really tricky to navigate, wanting to use your platform for enacting positive change but not wanting to say the wrong thing, wanting to provide escapism for your followers while also supporting victims of tragedies, and wanting to build awareness of horrible events while also needing to post sponsored content that pays your bills. You’ll never get it totally right and you’ll never please everyone.
But if you really take the time to consider some of these questions, hopefully you’ll gain clarity around what your values are telling you to do, what your audience might expect from you, and how to balance the two.
If your channel was a magazine, would it mention something?
A good way to consider if this is something you should post about is if your channel was a printed publication about your niche, would the publication mention this particular situation and if so, in what way? In the same way that brands and media publications have policies on how to handle a crisis, we can look at our values and our audience to guide us on if and how we should be talking about a particular world event.
For example, let’s assume that a young surfer & influencer who posts surfing content in New Zealand has suddenly transformed into a New Zealand surfing magazine. If you picked up this month’s edition of NZ Surfing, you wouldn’t necessarily expect there to be a double page spread on the war in Ukraine. If there was a mention of it that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but if there wasn’t, you’re probably going to understand that a local surfing magazine is not the right place to be getting information on a constantly evolving military operation and invasion.
On the other hand, my channel would be a travel magazine, and as a consumer I would probably expect any travel magazine to acknowledge what is happening in Ukraine* right now.
If you were an Australia van life magazine perhaps a simple acknowledgement of the war would do, while this type of publication would likely have much more coverage of the flooding in Brisbane instead. Or if you were a responsible travel magazine or an adventurous travel magazine that has previously covered destinations like Chernobyl, your coverage of the invasion is likely to be significantly bulkier and more focused on actions that help the situation.
If you definitely want to post or definitely don’t want to post then that’s absolutely fine, but if you’re on the fence then thinking of yourself as a publication rather than just a person with a platform might be able to give you some clarity on how you could handle it.
*Worth noting here that the global media treats “Western” and “non-Western” events very differently, and our response to war when it happens to people who look like us is vastly different to war in a country that we cannot relate to. I would hope that a travel magazine would also mention an impending war in Africa in the same way they would Ukraine, but the unfortunate reality is that the same situation in Africa would probably get less coverage in a magazine as well as on social media.
Why do you want to post?
So simple yet so overlooked, a great way to determine if we really should be posting something is to ask why we want to post about it in the first place.
Is it because everyone else is posting and we don’t want to look like we don’t care? It’s totally normal to feel that way, we are all aware of the way our peers view us, and of course we never want to give the impression that we are indifferent to situations where humans are suffering. But posting out of fear of looking bad is an example of performative activism, which is when someone posts about a cause or issue to garner attention or support, rather than actually caring about making a difference. More about that one later.
Is it to spread awareness of the situation? This is a great reason to post, provided that the content you share is actually focussed on awareness of the situation, not awareness of your dedication to the situation.
Is it to encourage action like donations? Another great reason to post, just try to repost from trusted sources so you aren’t unwittingly spreading a donation link to a fake charity (which happened on the first day of the invasion into Ukraine).
Am I taking up important space?
Another way to check our true motivations behind wanting to post is to consider if our content is taking up important space that could instead be used by people who are more central to the situation.
A good example of this is the black square trend that came with the Black Lives Matter movement. Social media was flooded with millions of black squares under the hashtags #blm and #blacklivesmatter, which meant that it was near impossible to find genuinely helpful information on protests, petitions and charities that were actually going to make a difference.
No judgement at all to anyone who participated in the black square trend, that was one of the earlier examples of global social media activism and is a great thing to look back on and analyse so that we don’t fall into that trap again.
If you are leaning towards the idea that yes, you posting would be taking up important space, one option is to instead use this opportunity to direct your audience to accounts who are more educated and who are sharing helpful content. This way you’re able to build awareness amongst your own audience while also making it clear that you’re not the expert, but instead suggesting they follow some other experts for the most up to date information.
Does posting align with your behaviour (or vice versa)?
One of the difficult things about voicing your support for any cause when you have a large audience is that once you do, people will be on the lookout for any hypocritical behaviour that might expose you as being performative or fake in terms of what you stand for. And if you’re a human, you’ll probably make a mistake at some stage and you may be called out for it.
A timely example of this is an influencer who might post about the atrocities of the Russian invasion and how civilians are dying at the hands of Russian air strikes, who then immediately announces that their next trip is to collaborate with a government-run tourism board of a country who is well-known for its own human rights abuses in nearby countries as well against women, LGBTQ+ communities and journalists in its own country.
Hypocrisy is the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs that don’t align with your actual behaviour, so when you publicly speak out against something like human rights abuses in one destination but then you actively promote another destination that’s doing the same thing, chances are at least some of your audience will notice.
While I have pretty strong views on this particular example*, it’s worth remembering that we all have totally different values, we make decisions based on different things, and living our lives with integrity will mean something completely different for each person. Someone who is okay with taking on this kind of collaboration might spend their time and money fighting for indigenous rights in their home country and they think I’m a terrible person when I spend my money at a foreign-owned restaurant, or maybe they are super eco-friendly travellers who only use sustainable power and therefore totally disagree with my choice of flying when I travel.
If you publicly take a stand on something, be prepared to back it up with behaviour that aligns with it, otherwise your audience will see right through it. If you know your future behaviour isn’t going to align with it, ask yourself why you want to take a stand publicly in the first place, or ask yourself why your behaviour doesn’t align with the stand you want to take.
*My strong views on this tourism board stem from past experience in my travel marketing desk job and come from a place of research and education. The ethics around tourism board collaborations with this destination could warrant a farrrrr deeper dive however I don’t really want to get on the wrong side of a government who arrests bloggers and murders journalists. I’d love to visit this country in the future, however I would do this independently, where I had control over where my money went and the type of content I shared.
Why this crisis?
This is a hard question that will probably bring out some uncomfortable truths, but it’s important to ask ourselves why do we feel the need to post about this particular crisis? What makes this crisis different to past situations of a similar scale?
This has been a huge topic in the past few days around the Russia-Ukraine war, and it’s so true, there are other wars happening right now with even more catastrophic consequences, yet they receive barely any attention from Western media. It’s basic human psychology, things affect us more when we are able to place ourselves in the shoes of the subject, and it’s easier to place ourselves in the shoes of the subject when they look like us and when they live a similar life to us.
I’m not saying it’s right, it’s horrendous that we are so desensitised to the tragic war crimes, poverty and human suffering that is happening in other countries just because the victims have a different skin colour, different religion and different way of life.
To be completely honest I don’t have an answer for this one, I’ve been typing and backspacing and typing and backspacing, trying to wrap it up with a sentence that helps you decide what to do. But I can’t. I can’t tell you that if you post about Ukraine you also have to post about Yemen or Palestine or Sudan or Myanmar, I’ve already said that we can’t be expected to be journalists, but I do think it’s always a good idea to question why a specific crisis tugs on our heartstrings more than the others.
Perhaps the best thing to do here is to take our new understanding and awareness of the impact of war and invasions, and use that lens to learn about and fight against the injustices so many other countries and communities are experiencing.
Whether you post or not, you won’t please everyone
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: whether you post or not, and regardless of what you post, if your audience is big then you’re probably going to piss someone off. Once you accept this shitty part of having a large platform, it’s actually quite liberating!
While we don’t want to go around offending people without a care in the world, we do need to be confident enough in our decisions on what to post or what not to post that we can handle any potential backlash that comes from our decision.
This past week I’ve had loads of conversations with travel content creators who sit on varying sides of the discuss-the-war spectrum, from those who are dedicating their channel to sharing helpful information and news updates, to those who are continuing with their magical content as usual, so that their audience knows it’s a positive-vibes-only zone.
Neither way is wrong, both options are going to have people who don’t agree, but if you consciously consider how you want to navigate the situation on your channel, you’re going to be far more comfortable when someone questions your decision.
If you’ve made it this far I want to congratulate you! You’re about half way, keep on pushing through.
What should you post?
So you’ve asked yourself the tough questions and you have decided to post something related to the situation at hand, now you have to figure out what the heck you say! Here are some of the questions to ask yourself to help you decide what type of content to post regarding a world crisis.
Is an acknowledgement fine?
People are going to have different views on this so once again it comes down to you and your audience.
For me personally, I respect creators who acknowledge a situation even if it’s just to say that they aren’t educated enough on the topic to speak about it in detail, or that they’re putting in the work offline but won’t be talking about it on their channels. I think this shows that they are conscious of their platform and want to show support while staying in their lane and not falling into the trap of being vocal for the sake of being vocal.
On the other hand, acknowledging a situation briefly before moving on to your usual fun-loving content might come across as out of touch and insensitive to some people.
Consider what you think your audience would appreciate from you, do they come to you for serious political discussions and deep dives, or are they used to light-hearted inspirational content? The former probably requires more than an acknowledgement, the latter might not require anything, and if you’re in between then you could even talk to your audience and ask them what they’d like to see from you at times like this.
Have you fact-checked what you’re sharing?
One of the best things about social media is that awareness of this huge events and useful information pertaining to them can spread exponentially, but the worst thing is that so too can fake news and misinformation.
This is the major reason why I’m cautious of posting too much about situations I’m not fully clued up on. As influencers and creators I believe we have a responsibility to validify what we post on our own channels, and posting something that ends up being fake or manipulated can have the absolute opposite effect of what we’re trying to achieve.
If you see a shocking headline that you can’t quite believe, quickly pop it into Google and add “fact check” on the end, or click into the ‘News’ tab to get the most recent articles about it to double check it’s correct before you share.
Are you using the correct terminology?
When we talk about sensitive subjects to a large audience, the words we use matter. Did you know that a ‘crisis’, a ‘war’ and a ‘conflict’ are three different things?
This is brilliantly explained by a linguistics professor on the Spinoff, but to paraphrase her, a ‘crisis’ implies that the problem lies within the country who is dealing with the impact (e.g. Ukraine), a ‘war’ implies there is a political aggressor from the outside and the impacted country is the victim, and a ‘conflict’ implies that there is equal responsibility between two parties.
When you are figuring out what to post, consider the way you are referring to the situation and research the correct terminology if you’re not sure.
Is what I’m posting going to help the situation?
Is your contribution to this cause going to have a genuinely positive impact for the cause, or is it going to mean that someone scrolling their feed sees one less post with helpful links and useful information, because your post comes up first?
Let’s quickly circle back to something I mentioned about 2000 words ago: performative activism, or the act of publicly supporting a cause to garner support or attention for your own benefit rather than actually caring about making a difference in the cause.
If your support of a cause is limited to:
- Posting a ‘thoughts and prayers’-type message *without* any further action (online or offline) to support the cause
- A specific month or day, like brands celebrating Pride Month or International Women’s Day without making any effort to dismantle the systems that oppress LGBTQ+ or female-identifying staff and customers
- Centring yourself in the conversation, like posting an unrelated photo of yourself alongside a message of support without any further action
- Participating in trends that make for good photo opportunities, like wearing a headscarf to support Muslim communities after the Christchurch attack (without, you guessed it, further action)
- An RIP post about someone tragically killed, whether that’s a black man from policy brutality or a woman murdered while walking home at night, without any further action to hold people and systems to account
Then you’re potentially falling into the trap of performative activism, whether that’s conscious or subconscious.
Just in case you missed it, the keywords here are without further action.
If your online support of a cause is backed up by genuine actions to build awareness, encourage donations or enact change, then you’re an absolute legend regardless of whether this is public knowledge or not. And on that note, it can be really tough to determine whether someone is being performative when we can’t see what they’re doing behind closed doors, so once again we have to be confident in our own decisions and that we’re doing what we can to help.
If you’re worried about posting something that counts as performative activism, some good options of what to share are:
- Fact-checked charities and donation links
- Accounts to follow that are sharing their real-life experience with the crisis
- Specific info on how to support the cause, like posting border information for fleeing refugees or posting about clean up days after the Brisbane floods
- Sharing trusted news sources that explain the situation clearly to those who might not have heard much about it
After I’ve posted, should I continue posting my normal content?
Once again, your return to your business-as-usual content will depend on the situation, your values and your audience.
Personally I prefer to keep a bit of distance from social media when something is taking over global media, whether that’s a war, a natural disaster or a pandemic. I am a bit of an information addict and I’m not very good at setting boundaries with my media consumption, so if I click on one headline, three hours later I’ll be in a Wikipedia rabbit hole learning about how NATO was established in 1949 (genuine example from earlier today).
Because of this, I generally take a step back from posting my normal content when we’re in the midst of a world crisis that’s taking over most channels. I like to acknowledge the situation, share where I’m personally getting my information from in case that helps educate others, and then protect my own mental health by limiting my involvement in online conversations about it. I know this is a hugely privileged position to be in, where I can control my exposure to tragic situations, but when our jobs require us to spend the vast majority of our lives on the internet it’s important to set boundaries like this.
I would just say that if you do take a break from social media, it’s a whole other dilemma on when and how to come back. Returning to your usual content might be interpreted as you thinking the crisis is no longer important, which is obviously not the case. Question your intentions, involve your audience in the conversation if you feel like it, and most of all be confident in the decisions you’re making.
On the other hand, there are people out there who prefer to focus on their happier content as a distraction from the chaos that’s happening elsewhere online, which is totally fine if that’s what you’re comfortable with and what your audience is comfortable with. There will always be people who take this as being insensitive but that comes with the territory of having a large audience.
Don’t be afraid to correct yourself
If you find yourself in a situation where you perhaps posted something without fact-checking, or whether you made a public statement about a particular event without knowing the full story, I guarantee your audience will appreciate a correction if you realise you shared something incorrect or out of context.
A quick note on judgement
At the risk of contradicting myself considering I’ve just given you 11 questions to judge your own intentions, we need to be really careful about how we judge influencers and content creators when they are navigating the impossible situation of speaking publicly about crises they know nothing about.
When I started writing this blog I had all my points set out to explain what to do and what not to do when considering what to post about world events, but I quickly realised that if I myself was going around in circles arguing with my own points of view, there was no way that I could lay out the dos and don’ts for anyone else without knowing their values, their audience and the specific situation at hand. I had to switch things up and figure out the questions we can ask ourselves to ensure we come to the right answer for us, rather than what everyone expects of us.
When all we see is what someone posts on social media, it’s impossible to understand the full picture. Someone who doesn’t post about a crisis might be dealing with their own trauma, they might be doing a tonne of work in the background and choose not to post about it, or they might be more focused on another crisis that is closer to their heart. Or, of course, they might just not give a shit! In any case, you are free to unfollow if you don’t support the way they handle things.
There’s no such thing as a perfect influencer or content creator. There are definitely ways to be more responsible as a content creator, and I’d encourage all of you to consider how you can ensure your content does more good than harm, but none of us are ever going to get things right 100% of the time and we shouldn’t be expected to.
Holding influencers, content creators and anyone with a platform to a ridiculous standard and placing people on a pedestal can result in a dangerous world of cancel culture, bullying and public shaming that isolates those who make mistakes and never lets them back into the fold.
If we as content creators take a more active role in questioning our own intentions as well as the impact of our actions, and then if we as content consumers remember not to treat creators or influencers as news sources, social media would be a much healthier and safer place.
Wowza, that was a long one! I am super passionate about our role as content creators and influencers and the responsibilities we hold to ensure our content has more of a positive impact than a negative impact, but this topic is extremely difficult to navigate as it’s so nuanced and dependent on the situation. If you have any further thoughts on this and want to discuss further my DMs are always open, you can find me over at @findingalexx on Instagram.
Leave a Reply