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You don't need to post through a crisis
How we ended up with so much cringe war content.
Posting through a crisis about posting through a crisis. —Kate
There’s a Twitter thread compiled by author Emma Berquist that collected the most “insane takes” from February 24, the day Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. From “Apes together strong” to actress AnnaLynne McCord’s spoken word poem, there was no shortage of cringeworthy content on the timeline. With billions of users spanning Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, it would be remarkable if there weren’t any batshit reactions to the news. These posts are easy to condemn, but I’d argue the prevalence of them is actually our own doing.
In the past five years, and even more so in the past two, we’ve put increasing pressure on public figures to say something when society is confronted with a crisis—from the pandemic to the killing of George Floyd to tensions between Israel and Palestine to what’s happening today. That those with power aren’t silent in the face of inequality and oppression is, of course, important. But there’s a limit to how helpful their statements actually can be, and they have the potential to be hollow or even harmful, depending on the person saying them—especially as our definition of a public figure has broadened.
For instance, 17-year-old TikTokker Charlie D’Amelio is not a foreign policy expert. Her audience, primarily TikTok users of a similar age, likely do not have much power over what’s happening between Israel and Palestine. And yet, after an outbreak of violence in May of last year, her comments were peppered with people asking her to address the conflict. As someone with over 100 million followers, she has the responsibility that comes with being a public figure. I’d argue that an important part of that responsibility is recognizing when she is not informed enough on something to comment. Fortunately, she seems to agree, and limits her activism to the sharing of helpful links on Twitter.
This pressure has trickled down, because lots of people feel like influencers now. We’re speaking to the audience of our individual communities, be that 300 people or 300,000. Whether we’re explicitly told this or pick up on it from observing other online interactions, the general rule among prolific posters seems to be that if we don’t say something, we’re part of the problem—and if we post about anything else, we’re being callous. As Ryan Broderick put it in today's Garbage Day, "There are a lot of internet users who, after a decade of exposure to viral media, have had their minds so thoroughly warped by trending content that they believe that reacting to popular internet culture is not just a replacement for a personality, but some kind of moral duty."
Something as simple as Paul McCartney sharing his Wordle score is met with “FYI Paul, there’s a war going on,” like this 79-year-old musician should get off his phone and parachute into Kyiv. Snarky tweets complaining about people not tweeting about crises go viral, so then someone tries to acknowledge the situation in a way that feels accessible to them—say, through Avengers comparisons or clapping at 7 p.m. or, God forbid, singing “Imagine”—and then gets roasted, anyways
Maybe this all comes down to how jarring it is to see normal content during a crisis. It is weird to scroll Instagram and see photos of civilian fighters in Ukraine followed by a Reel of someone roller skating to a Saweetie song. But as the online world becomes a comprehensive representation of the offline world, we’ll have to learn to sit with these juxtapositions. After Putin declared a nuclear alert this weekend, I continued emailing companies I’ve worked for asking for tax documents. There’s not much else I can do with my life other than keep living it, online and off, and trust I know when my voice is needed and when it’s not.