Celebrities with large followings on social media have significant influence. Reaching millions of devoted fans with every post, these figures have the power to shape opinions and create movements.
Some use their influence for good, inspiring people to take action on behalf of important causes, and encouraging them to be the best versions of themselves. Yet others display an alarming lack of social responsibility.
British actress Emma Watson’s Instagram account is illustrative.
According to her Instagram bio, Watson lent her account to “an anonymous Feminist Collective.” The blue checkmark next to her username is supposed to verify that the Instagram account does, indeed, belong to her, but it’s clearly not her posting. If this is the case, why is Instagram violating its own rules by allowing this and undermining the integrity of its prestigious blue check?
Watson has more than 64 million Instagram followers, all of whom are now seeing posts in their feeds that they reasonably assume were from her, but are not. Until you click on her profile and read her bio, there is nothing alerting you to this identity swap.
Some of these posts display a disturbing lack of social responsibility. Recently, for example, a picture posted on her account shows Palestinian flags and “Free Palestine” posters in the background of a sign adorned with the quote: “Solidarity is a verb.” This implies that Israel is an aggressor. It’s a one-sided vilification of the world’s only Jewish nation.
There are no posts decrying atrocities in other parts of the world. Israel alone is singled out.
When celebrities get involved in geopolitical “hot button” issues, they gain traction. Someone like Watson is a hero to many, including millions of Jews. Her account’s asymmetric and biased approach to the Jewish state is troubling, as is her apparent willingness to lend her name to such an effort.
In addition, figures with large followings need to think about the consequences of their posts. With anti-Semitism surging worldwide, what will be the impact of sending out a post that demonizes the Jewish state to tens of millions of followers?
Sadly, Watson’s account is not the first, nor will it likely be the last, to continue this troubling pattern.
For instance, the singer and performer Dua Lipa, who was voted a finalist in StopAntisemitism’s “2021 Antisemite of the Year” contest, also vilified the Jewish nation. On her Instagram story, Lipa shared to her 77 million followers false screenshots claiming that the Israeli government created Hamas. Because stories placed on Instagram disappear after 24 hours, Lipa was able to post on social media and leave no trace of them.
Lipa and others are able to espouse opinions without being held accountable. This is shameful.
It’s not only celebrities who must consider their social responsibility; the social-media platforms themselves must also do so. Watson’s account is, by admission in her own bio, is not hers. Why does she still have a blue checkmark verifying her account?
According to Instagram, “At its core, verification is a way for people to know that the notable accounts they are following or searching for are exactly who they say they are. It’s a way for people to know which accounts are authentic and notable.” This is clearly not the case here.
Doesn’t Instagram have a responsibility, if for no other reason than to follow its own guidelines, to revoke her verification or shut down her account for community guideline violations?
Instagram is obligated to take immediate action. It’s time for social-media platforms to be held accountable for unfair, misleading and biased practices. At the very least, this means demanding that they enforce their own guidelines, which are designed to ensure transparency and legitimacy.
Celebrities should not take lightly the power that their platforms possess. Posting with care is a necessity. What’s more, account verifications should not be extended to those who are simply using a celebrity’s platform to widen a post’s reach. This social responsibility falls on famous users and platforms alike.
Liora Rez is the founder and director of the watchdog group StopAntisemitism.