Celebs sharing their political views on social media: undue influence or freedom of speech? At the recent Golden Globes awards, actress Meryl Streep’s accepted the Cecil B DeMille award and was honored for her contribution to the world of entertainment. However, it was not any comment on her life in entertainment and acting that dominated the headlines.
Streep delivered an impassioned plea against a man who is arguably the most powerful political figure in the world today. While she never named him, there was no mistaking his identity: Donald Trump. She openly referred to an infamous incident that she had witnessed between Trump and a reporter. “It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back,” said Streep. “When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
Her comments sparked both positive and negative reactions, including a direct Twitter rebuttal by the target of the speech himself. Many private citizens have voiced their opinions about President Trump, but it’s much more impactful when a celebrity does it. Streep wasn’t the first celeb to use her star appeal to make a political point, and she won’t be the last. Especially as the platform doesn’t have to be a major awards ceremony. Social media provides a real-time platform with unlimited reach and various ways to voice an opinion. For example, Kendall Jenner took to Instagram to share her views on the presidential candidates.
Sporting a shirt with the American flag on it, Jenner posted the photo of herself with the caption, “her her her”. That single post went out to over 49 million followers on Instagram and 15 million on Twitter. Meanwhile, the candidate she was supporting had only about one-third as many followers on Twitter.
So, is it fair for these celebs to use their status and fan base like this?Should they share their personal views on important political personalities and actions with the millions of social media followers worldwide? Are they abusing the luxury of the influence they hold over so many fans? Or are they merely using their fundamental right to free speech to say what they think?
Celebrities have the power to influence the sales of clothes by appearing in a certain designer’s dress; the sale of books by mentioning them in a TV book club discussion, or even the sale of muffins by stopping to pick one up. But when it comes to major political issues that can impact national or global future, is this too much power?
Consider the alternative. The censorship of social media is a huge issue. We know that all the major platforms do censor what they publish in some form. For most of them, it is about removing content that may be considered harmful – pornography, criminal element etc. What if they started to routinely remove political views that are unacceptable to the human editors who will create the censorship algorithms? Where will this stop? And what about the politicians themselves? Should their use of social media to reach their followers be curtailed too?
Today, a large proportion of folks across the globe receive their daily dose of news from social media, not formal news media. Real or fake, fact or opinion – there is a huge amount of sifting and choosing of information that each user needs to do for him/herself. So when it comes to politics on social media, an opinion is just that – an opinion. It is the responsibility of users to remember that and make their own judgment. It is neither the duty nor the right of the platforms to monitor what users can post or see. Just as it is not a crime for us to post about our political beliefs on social media platforms, it shouldn’t be wrong for celebrities to do the same. Today, everyone who has a social media account has a real voice, the numbers they can reach will vary but their power to sway opinions is real. Denying the right of citizens to present a viewpoint or ask for support of their views amounts to corralling their voice, and ultimately denying us all of the freedom of speech that is synonymous with modern free society.