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repeal the 8th

Should social influencers feel obliged to speak out on Repeal The 8th?

There have been calls for social influencers to speak out on Repeal The 8th – but is that their responsibility?

THREE WEEKS AGO, thousands of people took part in the March For Choice, a pro-choice march organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign.

#RepealThe8th trended on social media that day as people of all stripes pledged their support for access to abortion in Ireland.

A few days after the march, blogger Leanne Woodfull penned an open letter to her fellow Irish influencers expressing her disappointment at how many of them have remained silent on the issue.

“The silence from my peers in the blogging and social media world confuses and upsets me daily,” wrote Woodfull, who has been outspoken on the issue. “We have each worked hard on and attracted influential online platforms, that people venture to to hear our words, thoughts and recommendations.”

“Somehow, human rights and tragedy don’t fit into those platforms though for the majority – despite the influence to help and educate at hand.”

Today’s youth look at bloggers and social media influencers quicker than they do television celebrities or pop stars. We have a bigger clout at our disposal, yet it goes to waste. Every single day. I have no respect for your silence.

The open letter went viral, garnering hundreds of likes and retweets. It prompted a discussion on the responsibility, if any, that social influencers hold to speak out on political issues.

Many of Ireland’s leading social influencers are young women who have built significant followings that can number in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands across social media and their own personal websites. They have parlayed their online influence into successful commercial partnerships and earn money from what they say and promote on social media.

With that in mind, is there an onus on social influencers to use their platform to be socially conscious or are we expecting too much from them?

Holly Carpenter is proudly pro-choice and has spoken out publicly on the issue several times over the past year. As someone with a combined following of 128,000 across Instagram and Twitter, she feels she has a duty to speak out on issues she feels passionately about.

“Personally I feel like I have a responsibility to express an opinion on important issues like this when I have such a young following who get most of their information from their phones,” she explains. “There’s more to social media than selfies, it’s a powerful tool that can be used to get your point across in your own words.”

Not everyone will agree but I would hate to look back in years to come and regret staying silent on such an important issue.

Louise O’Reilly of Style Me Curvy is also pro-choice and has been compelled to speak out because she views the eighth amendment as a human rights issue.

“We have a duty for our country to ensure democracy and human rights are protected and the eighth amendment inhibits these rights,” she says. “It brings with it an air of distrust – our country doesn’t trust women to make a right decision about their own bodies.”

O’Reilly conceded that she has a special interest in the subject and states that she intends to make a special effort to encourage people to vote in next year’s referendum in order to discourage complacency. She explained why some of her peers might be reluctant to speak out.

“Some people are heavily involved in politics as bloggers while others I know might not know a huge amount and worry if they start speaking about one political issue they’ll be expected to speak about them all,” she explains. “I studied human rights in college so for me personally it hits a chord and I feel the need to speak about it on social media.”

Someone who doesn’t see herself as terribly political is Sarah Hanrahan of I Come Undone. However, she feels that #RepealThe8th isn’t your average political issue given it primarily affects young women.

“I’m not a person who is overly involved in political issues in a public sense yet the importance of the Repeal Project is hard to ignore when the majority of my followers are young Irish females,” she explained. “It’s an injustice to them to brush over the topic.”

As someone who is pro-choice, Hanrahan has plans in place for how she will address the forthcoming referendum. “I will be reiterating my stance on the referendum as it approaches as well as documenting my journey to the polling station,” she explains. “I’d be the first to admit that I’m not fully educated on all the details of the referendum but I’m actively learning which is my duty as an Irish citizen.”

But not everyone feels empowered to speak out. One influencer who spoke on the condition of anonymity explained that she had largely shied away from the issue of #RepealThe8th owing to the divisive nature of the debate.

“It’s a very sensitive subject,” she said. “It’s literally life and death and I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m forcing my opinion on them by sharing mine.”

Asked whether she would speak out in advance of the referendum, she stated that she had yet to make up her mind about the approach she will take, in part because she is still wrestling with how she feels about the issue.

I’m not sure, it makes me upset to think about. It’s not like I want abortions to be a common thing, because I know people who have had unplanned babies and they are always a blessing in the end. But depending on the circumstances of the woman, I do believe the choice should be up to her.

While she believes that influencers can help form opinions, she feels that nobody should feel obliged to “talk about something that’s that sensitive and divisive”.

Many critics have speculated that some of the silence is commercially motivated – influencers don’t want to risk valuable brand partnerships and sponsorships by voicing strong opinions.

But as someone who has spoken out publicly, Holly Carpenter believes that this isn’t a major issue. “I don’t think brands have any issue with influencers being political as long as we maintain a soft approach,” she says.

More than anything, it appears that many influencers aren’t so much concerned with risking commercial opportunities as they are with alienating followers who hold opposing views. There’s an attitude of, “Who am I to push my views on other people?”

Equally, it seems that there are some influencers who just don’t feel that strongly on the issue.

“I think that a percentage of influencers, just like a percentage of the human population simply don’t care about these issues,” says Sarah Hanrahan.

While she describes the silence as “frustrating” she also believes that people shouldn’t weigh in on important topics for the sake of it either.

I think weighing in on these topics when you have no genuine interest in them is disingenuous so in a way they’re right not to mention it.
It is without a doubt frustrating to see people avoiding important topics one minute while using their following to peddle posts to suit their own agenda every other day of the week. Then again, it’s their following who allow them to have a platform to begin with so, if you don’t like how they’re using it you need to vote with the unfollow button, simple as.

Those who use their platform to speak out on any political issue are to be commended for their courage and activism. But does that mean we ought to condemn those who keep their views private? Is there room to be moderate on an issue as contentious and emotive as abortion? Is there something to be said for “staying in your lane” if you don’t feel equipped to speak out on an issue?

This is something influencers and their followers alike will have to contend with in the months ahead. One thing is for sure: this won’t be the last we hear about it.

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