The rise of the internet came with a plethora of side effects, with one in particular that has been standing out in the last few years: increased activism. A quick scroll on Instagram would tell you everything you need to know about the goings-on in the world — one friend may be championing women’s rights, another may be sharing information about the freedom of the press. Staying woke, as many may call it, is what you need to remain relevant these days. So it comes as no surprise that our favorite personalities have turned into modern-day activists as well, using their platforms to talk about what matters most to them.
The most recent example that comes to mind is the #HijaAko movement, which stems from Frankie Pangilinan schooling the misinformed Ben Tulfo on rape culture via Twitter. “Rape culture is real and a product of this precise line of thinking, where the behavior is normalized, particularly by men… calling me hija will not belittle my point,” she wrote when he made remarks about women and the way they dress providing an “opportunity” for men to rape them.
The response to this? Discourse — an influx of young women (and men) taking to social media to talk about their stories. A few acquaintances of mine bravely shared their own stories as well. Frankie speaking up reminded women that despite this horrible perpetuation of rape culture, they are not alone.
On the other hand, not every individual in the public eye is able to utilize their platform in this manner. Remember how I mentioned earlier that the internet came with a number of side effects? Well clearly, not all of them are positive. A number of studies have shown that social media can also exacerbates one’s insecurities, leaving this immense pressure to seem “perfect” — whatever that means. Celebrities are not immune to this.
I ask a few friends if any celebrity comes to mind and one is quick to answer. “Taylor Swift is a good example. She proclaimed feminism with a background of white girl privilege, which people then criticized because of a lack of intersectionality. The same thing happened when she released ‘You Need To Calm Down.’ While she promoted gay rights, people assumed she was doing it to gain fans from the LGBTQ community rather than actually help them or learn about their struggles. People assumed this because of her history,” she said.
She has a point — posting a black box on your Instagram to support Black Lives Matter is not the same as actually reading up on these issues, encouraging others to do the same, and donating to these causes. The goal of activism, after all, is to promote social change, not to promote a popular opinion in an effort to keep your fans.
This leads us to wonder (in a melodramatic Carrie Bradshaw-esque voice), would it be fair to hold these public figures accountable for these inauthentic actions forever? Cancel culture, which involves boycotting one with questionable behavior, is more present than ever. While I believe it is important to correct someone’s behavior, we should leave them room to grow from their mistakes as well. If that person continues to act the same way, however, then that is another story.
Practically every person I asked had leaned towards the same answer: activism is received well when it is genuine. “Activism fails to become meaningful when it becomes about oneself rather than helping a cause,” another friend tells me. “Fighting for an issue has to mean something to you first before anything else; that goes hand in hand with being responsible enough to educate yourself about the issue and finding the right information to disseminate, because empty statements and actions only trivialize the struggles of the oppressed,” she adds.
Truth be told, I was more than ready to write about the number of times I had witnessed people being inauthentic on social media. For as long as I could remember, I had always valued sincerity, so talking about it (and shaming others who didn’t) seemed like an option, especially in such confusing times. But a conversation with an older actress made me step back.
Compared to other people in the industry, she is on the quieter side. I ask her why she rarely uses her platform to talk about such issues. While she agrees that being a public figure comes with some responsibility, she experiences slight anxiety when it comes to speaking out about these issues on social media. “I prefer to talk about things I feel more knowledgeable about and would rather not add to something just for the sake of talking about them,” she shares. A fair point. When asked about what issues she is more passionate about, she answers, “Something that I personally went through — or if not me, someone from my family.” I feel a pang of guilt and go back to looking at her for who she really is to me: my mother.
Activists — whether they’re being genuine or not — are not going away anytime soon. Although certain ways of using one’s platform is more ideal, I learned the hard way that there are some things you simply cannot control. How someone presents themselves on social media is definitely not one of them. While many of us carry respect for those who do speak out, it isn’t always right to fault those who slip up, or those who choose to stay quiet. A young celebrity who doesn’t appear as genuine on social media may be going through a difficult time, or may have insecurities that are worse than you can imagine.
At the end of the day, what is the point of activism if we don’t attempt to understand one another?