It is almost impossible to ignore the existence of a celebrity. Celebrities are everywhere, be it on social media platforms, advertisements, or TV shows. Very often, the attractive lifestyles and the culture of celebrities consciously or subconsciously play a big part in influencing an individuals’ thoughts and beliefs. This is due to a celebrity’s ability to attain the attention of the society by documenting their lives online, where it makes it easy to for them to shape the way their audiences choose to live their lives, which contributes to the many reasons why celebrities today have a big influence on society (The Influence of Celebrities on Youth, 2018).
Due to the advancement in technology within the past decade, more celebrities are coming forward to create their own social media account where they would share information about their daily activities with their fans. These celebrity accounts are often easy to find with minimum effort as there are always news on them everywhere. That being said, along with the advancement in our society, there has also been a rise of social issues. Many of these social issues are casted aside and ignored, and even if they were reported, little significance is shown to them. This is where the role of celebrities come in. As mentioned earlier, celebrities are capable of effectively influencing an individual’s thoughts and beliefs and this applies to social issues as well; which are often discussed on social media. On social media platforms, one celebrity would roughly have around a few hundred thousand to a million followers, meaning that they have a large viewing audience paying attention to their every move. The content these celebrities upload on their social media accounts are made public for everyone to see, even non-fans. With this much attention, celebrities are capable of raising awareness to an underrepresented social issue.
Originally founded in 2006, the #MeToo movement was made viral in October 2017 when American actress Alyssa Milano popularised it on Twitter. The #MeToo movement was implemented to showcase the increasing presence of sexual assault and harassment in today’s society. Survivors of sexual violence are encouraged to share their experiences on social media, which by doing so, as quoted from Alyssa Milano, “give[s] people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. According to the World Health Organization, one-third women worldwide have been exposed to sexual violence and very often, these victims of sexual violence do not speak up and leave their harassments unreported. A poll done by ABC News and The Washington Post shows that even if these harassments are reported, 95% of the time the predators are allowed to continue roaming the streets without being punished (Me Too movement, n. d. ). This leaves the victims feeling ashamed as their voices are being disregarded by the authorities, which results in worsening the traumatic experience knowing that their predator will continue finding new targets to prey on. However, sexual violence would still be ignored if celebrities like Allyssa Milano did not speak up on such issues. Exposing the public to this issue reveals the harsh reality these victims had to experience and in return, people will be more aware of their surroundings and will look out for one another. Having this movement also empowers the vulnerable by showing that many others have experienced these events themselves and that they are not alone and hopefully, it will encourage them to stand up and defend for themselves. This proves that celebrities do have the ability to make social issues newsworthy and relevant. In addition to raising awareness on an underrepresented issue, celebrities are also capable of using their fame to “convert” their followers to become supporters of various organisations, charities or non-profits. When these organisations collaborate with celebrities, they can bring recognition to a social issue and when the public sees the content posted by the celebrities, they may be inspired to take action by conducting their own research and doing what they can to help (Caitlin Maguire, 2012).
Generally, celebrities are wealthy on their own and have the funds to donate to organisations. When a celebrity brands their name to an organisation and takes part in fund-raising events, it allows greater exposure and media coverage, which helps in the overall fund-raising as it attracts the attention of donors. In 2011, an 8. 9 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, and everyone turned to social media for news coverage and ways to support these victims. With over 14 million followers, Lady Gaga started selling $5 bracelets on Twitter with the words “Pray for Japan” engraved on the band in support for the victims of the natural disaster. All the funds from the sales were donated to the Tsunami Relief Efforts in support of the victims and the donations were used to provide the victims with basic necessities. Gaga’s strong pride for activism and her fund-raising event provided people with an opportunity to help the Japanese victims. In 48 hours, Gaga raised a total of $250,000 and overall, she helped to raise $3 million (Ani Istanboulian, 2013). The success of her fund-raising event is a prime example of the influencing power celebrities hold. Additionally, celebrities act as role models for their fans, which very often consists of teenagers. Celebrities set a good example by taking part in fundraising events and spreading awareness on underrepresented issues. These humanitarian actions will inspire the young audience to follow their footsteps and give back to the community. Through these acts, celebrities also educate their fans on the issues that are not necessarily taught in the classroom, such as handling body image issues. Jennifer Lawrence has spoken up on the importance of maintaining a healthy body several times.
As a Hollywood star, Jennifer has received many criticisms on her physical form, but she has never given in to the negativity. She embraces the diet-free lifestyle and is against the idea of starving herself for a role because she does not want younger girls to starve themselves in attempt to look like her (Mackenzie Wagoner, 2018). “Why is humiliating people funny?. . . I think it should be illegal to call somebody ‘fat’ on TV. If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect that it has on our younger generation, then why aren’t we regulating things like calling people ‘fat’?” said Jennifer, on addressing the body shaming issues that female celebrities often deal with in the media. Unfazed by criticisms, Jennifer continues to live her life with a positive mindset and thus, she is a good role model as she sets a good example and inspires the younger generation. Although celebrities have the power to gain attention and support from the public, there is still a limit to the results they may achieve. For celebrities, raising awareness on an issue takes little to no effort. However, actually seeing the outcome from it can be difficult at times. It takes less than a second to retweet or share a post, but it takes a lot more to step forward and make a change. If possible, people would want to imitate a celebrity’s positive behaviour, but most would be selective of the behaviour they would imitate and would only do so if it is convenient for them. Besides, not everyone cares and keeps up with celebrities.
There could be viral tweet circulating the web but if an individual has no interest in that celebrity, they wouldn’t be bothered to read up on it. Singer Alicia Keys and other celebrities started a social media campaign back in 2010, where they signed a “digital death” to their social media accounts until they met their fundraising goal of $1 million for the charity Keep a Child Alive. The purpose of signing a “digital death” is to sacrifice their online lives to offer real lives to the people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Africa and India (Ani Istanboulian, 2013). However, even with the good intensions of the celebrities and the campaign’s fresh idea, the succession rate turned out to be low. Signing a “digital death” was critiqued to be an egotistical idea as fans were not in favour of paying to get their celebrities back online.
On top of that, the minimum donation amount was $10 and not everyone could afford to donate that much. The social engagement between celebrity and fan was absent too. To make a campaign successful, the celebrity has to communicate with their fans but because of the “digital death”, they weren’t able to influence and engage with their fans to support the campaign. Thus, this shows that there are instances where although celebrities are able to raise awareness on an issue, they might not be able to influence and create a drastic change in the society. In conclusion, while celebrities are able to use their fame to capture the attention of their audience and raise awareness on an underrepresented social issue, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are capable of effectively influencing them to support and produce the wanted outcome. To overcome these obstacles, celebrities would have to work harder to engage with their audiences but even so, there will always be a limitation to how much they can do to effectively influence a social issue.
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