PICTURED ABOVE: Reality television star and activist Kim Kardashian chats with model and activist Ashley Graham on the show “Pretty Big Deal with Ashley Graham.” Both Kardashian and Graham have been outspoken advocates on issues ranging from the criminal justice system to body positivity.
With hundreds of millions of followers on social media platforms, celebrities have been known to promote the newest detox teas and the “best” hair gummies in tweets and posts. However, with the increase in the popularity of social media, some celebrities are also using their platforms to try to enact political change. As pop culture is becoming such a large part of everyday life, are the opinions of celebrities able sway the beliefs of fans and maybe even government authorities? If so, how much do we want their opinions to sway those beliefs?
Although celebrities influencing the public is not a new concept, the advent of social media has given influencers a platform to build a following and to easily spread their opinions to their fanbases. Many citizens who do not keep current with political news and issues are increasingly hearing about political issues through social media from celebrities who often have limited knowledge on the topics. Unfortunately, in the absence facts, fans may be giving far too much weight to the often uninformed opinions of the celebrities they follow.
Upper School history teacher Lucio Benedetto believes that it has been easier for celebrities’ opinions to influence others because of social media.
“Historically, this [celebrities sharing their political views] has been an issue, but I think we are seeing an increasing in it and in its effects because now it’s not just television or a speech somewhere, it’s Facebook and Instagram and all these other platforms,” Benedetto said.
One recent example exists of a celebrity even influencing the structure of the United States Justice System. Reality star and millionaire mogul Kim Kardashian has recently spoken out and worked closely with the administration of President Donald Trump on prison reform. Although many would agree with Kardashian that the prison system needs improvement, many also question why she has so much say on this issue.
Kardashian and other celebrities have used their social media platforms to bring attention to specific individuals in prison who they believe should be granted clemency. Recently, Cyntoia Brown, a 30-year-old woman in jail for killing her rapist in his sleep, was granted clemency after serving 15 years in prison and facing a life sentence. In addition to Kardashian, actress Ashley Judd and comedian Amy Schumer brought an enormous amount of attention to Brown’s case on social media, in particular on Twitter.
After Brown’s case was revisited and she was granted clemency, people were crediting Kardashian in particular as being the driving force behind her attaining her freedom. While these celebrities did not change her verdict themselves, the question is whether they just brought attention to the case or whether they also had an undue influence over the judges and their decision to grant Brown clemency.
Tracy Walder, former CIA and FBI agent and a Upper School history teacher, is one of many concerned with the sudden influence of celebrities on the justice system.
“I think the celebrity needs to understand the power they wield over their fanbase,” Walder said, “and if they don’t understand that, it could be problematic.”
Kardashian has also been credited with granting Alice Marie Johnson clemency after she received a life sentence in prison for being a low-level drug transgressor. After Kardashian tweeted about Johnson on several different occasions, her case received a large amount of attention.
“If they [celebrities] are able to influence court outcomes, that is a huge flaw and I feel very strongly about that because justice is supposed to be blind and should not be decided upon by people who are not part of the justice and legal system,” Walder said.
Twitter in particular has been used by political figures and celebrities to voice their views and opinions on issues and topics. Twitter is a free app and can be accessed without having an account, which makes the platform easily available for people around the world. Additionally, with tweets going viral so quickly, Twitter has become increasingly famous for famous figures to share their views. And President Donald Trump, a celebrity himself, has been one of the most frequent and strident users to express his opinions on societal issues via Twitter.
“If people are in their own bubbles and they don’t hear other people’s opinions, then that celebrity aspect driving a certain belief becomes harder to question,” Benedetto said.
Furthermore, in the midterm elections last November, celebrity endorsements could be viewed all over Instagram and Twitter as well as many other social media platforms. Although quantifying how many of people’s votes were influenced by celebrities is difficult, celebrities have so much influence over fan bases consisting mostly of younger generations that it is reasonable to think that many people might vote differently because of celebrity endorsements. That is especially true for those who may not have much exposure to other sources of news.
Sophomore Arabella Ware believes that celebrities using social media to advocate for their political views can have both positive and negative impacts.
“Yes, I think [celebrities’] opinions affect how people will vote, and I think it is good sometimes because it can provide information to someone who might not have had it otherwise,” Ware said. “But it can also influence people that do not know any better and lead people to not make independent decisions.”
It is likely that many celebrities do not truly realize how much power they actually have and how much their opinion could change someone else’s. Many times, a celebrity might make a statement that could be very biased or partial to a specific political party or they could not be fully educated about the topic they are speaking out against.
“Sometimes celebrities are people’s main source and exposure to political figures and political issues,” Walder said. “If the person who is following them and taking their advice on who to vote for or what issues to support, that could be problematic if the celebrity is not educated on it.”
Story by Erin Parolisi, Staff Writer
Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons