Whether you’re an avid ‘grammer or have only a vague interest in what’s happening in the land of social media, it will have been hard to miss the influencer trolling scandal that hit the headlines in recent weeks. With news of mummy blogger, NHS midwife, and “celebrity” instagram influencer Clemmie Hooper confessing to being behind an anonymous account which posted abusive, trolling, and at time racist comments on the Tattle Life forum site, the insta-sphere is awash with outrage. In the wake of Clemmie’s comments against fellow influencers, questions are being asked about the role of Instagram itself, not to mention the future of influencers and their relationships with the brands that feed their existence. What is Digital Citizenship and who is responsible for it?
It’s a little complex to explain here but briefly, Clemmie became aware of vile comments about her and her family on the Tattle Life forum, and, in an attempt to influence from the inside, she adopted a fake persona through which she attempted to make positive comments. This persona was so obviously off-kilter from the rest of the conversation there, she was called out and her true identity was questioned. Instead of simply stepping away at this point, she instead went to the extreme of adopting the style of the forum, to make cruel, highly critical and sometimes racist comments about other bloggers, many of whom are well known to her and would have counted themselves as her friends. Yikes.
Are we really surprised by all this? Well yes, it is fairly shocking to know that a seasoned influencer with years of experience (not to mention 670K + followers under her belt) would actively decide to move from being the victim to being the perpetrator of attacks against friends, peers, and – even – her husband, who also has a huge online following as Fatherofdaughters (FOD). To use a Northern Ireland-ism, she had clearly completely lost the run of herself through her deep immersion in this world which relies on narcissism, self-promotion and personal exposure to an world of followers who have virtually zero accountability.
More than that, to understand the impact of her comments against those who she claims to respect and be inspired by is quite mind-boggling. But at core, is it not surprising to see more of the dark and distorted underbelly of social media. The perceived curtain of anonymity that social media affords its users combined with the break-neck speed of instagrammer influence and the brands desperate to jump on the bandwagon, means that it’s a largely unmoderated space. The reality is that this will most likely not be the end of this type of behaviour. Certainly not, unless, we take these experiences as a mandate to really examine our ‘Digital Citizenship’ and what that means to everyone operating in the social media sphere.
Originally the concept of Digital Citizenship was quite a passive one: the straightforward and sensible idea of ‘responsibility and respectfulness’; being responsible for your own actions online and being respectful of the views and positions of others operating alongside you. The impact of recent influencer and trolling behaviour looks like this definition is no longer fit for purpose.
Social media has completely overhauled our social, cultural, and political lives. It has skewed the ways in which we communicate, and it has shaped our attitudes towards other people. These changes have not always been positive. To imagine activity on this level having no policing is very strange.
Where do we go from here? It’s no longer enough to know what’s appropriate in your own behaviour. We’ve seen how even the most experienced of social media users can be exposed for falling victim to the ‘online disinhibition effect’. Now we need to empower all actors to be part of a change.
If we are to evolve the idea of Digital Citizenship at the same pace as the evolution of influencers and the brands that they work with, then we really need to step up the game. Passive is insufficient. We need to define and roll out a very active definition of Digital Citizenship. One which is built on the actions of all users of social media platform. From simple ‘responsibility and respectfulness,’ we need to expand the definition to include aspects of health and wellness, data security, digital literacy, and online etiquette at minimum.
As a foundational change, asserting agreed tenants of Digital Citizenship must be central to the platform itself. Instagram (or Facebook who own them) need to step ahead. They must lead the charge in pushing for better, more social-minded use of its platform. Tenants would necessitate behavioural rules for advertisers and influencers alike (operating alongside those of the Advertising Standards Agency) and would by extension be respected by the agencies who facilitate these relationships.
Compounding all of this, individuals should be asked to police not only their actions but those of the users around them, the brands around them, the influencers around them. That could mean boycotting the platform, or the accounts that perpetrate crimes against digital citizenship. Or perhaps it will mean simply reporting images, comments, and advertisements whenever we notice suspect behaviour. Whatever the action, change can only come about if we are all responsible for calling out these indiscretions. Only through this global application of Digital Citizenship can we really expect a shift in how we use and how we feel about social media. And if we don’t manage, I’d suggest we’ll see more scandals hitting the newsstands. The social media waters are muddy and only a concerted clear up can help.