Influencers and Chernobyl: Where’s the line between educational content and clout chasing?

Lorna Luxe dress

Posing at Chernobyl

This week a post popped up on my feed that really got me thinking about people’s willingness to jump down influencer’s throats and paint us all as disrespectful, vacuous beings. The post was a screenshot of a conventionally attractive blonde woman stood in an abandoned building dreamily looking into the distance. The location? Pripyat, Ukraine – a ghost city that was built to serve the employees of the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Now, I’m sure you can imagine the nature of the commentary on the image, I believe the phrase ‘jettison me off this planet’ was used. People were quick to criticise the influencer pictured, labelling her ‘disrespectful’, ‘vain’, and ‘disgusting’.

Now, I’ve always had an interest in ‘dark tourism’ – I want to understand the worst of humanity, and how we can have such a harmful impact on ourselves, our fellow living creatures and the environment – so the post intrigued me, and before making up my mind I ventured onto the influencer’s Instagram to see what all of the fuss was about. I think it’s fair to say I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Her posts showed the aftermath of Chernobyl (and the areas surrounding it), her stories focused on telling the technicalities of what happened and how the area has changed since. I devoured every piece of content, and after consuming it all I felt like I had learnt a lot. It was fascinating, and left me thinking a lot about the incident and how it has impacted the lives of those who were living in the surrounding areas.

So, you can imagine my irritation at the commentary that was quickly building on Twitter. Yes, if you screen grab an image (failing to include the caption, which provides context) it’s easy to see how it can be seen as disrespectful and ridiculous. But, in the context of the story that was being told, I really can’t see how the content was in any way inappropriate.

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Clout chasing or meaningful content?

Influencers get a lot of bad press, and they frequently get dragged on Twitter. I can see why, not only is there a lot of money and lavish lifestyles involved when it comes to being an ‘internet celebrity’ but there’s a lot of cheating going on in the pursuit of success and fame. There’s a general feeling that most influencers are dishonest frauds who constantly peddle low quality product to their brainless audience. It’s such a ridiculously warped view of the industry, I honestly don’t have much energy left to keep counteracting it. I would say the ‘bad’ of the industry probably only makes up a tiny percentage of content creators, so it’s annoying that we are all assumed to behave like that.

I can’t deny that there has been some awful clickbait content created that steps over the line of being respectful of tragedies *cough* *Logan Paul* but to remove the context of someone’s post just for the purpose of mocking/attacking them is so wrong to me. Just because someone is conventionally attractive, or predominantly posts lingerie photos, doesn’t mean they can’t have a genuine interest in educating their audience about the things that matter. Chernobyl was a huge nuclear disaster that I think we will be discussing for decades to come. It’s important we engage younger and wider audiences in the story, and if it’s done via an Instagrammers page I’m all for it.

We really have to get out of this mindset that because people communicate in different ways to us that they’re wrong. There’s a big superiority complex when it comes to the types of content people share, and I can’t stand it. A production team for the BBC can be equally as powerful in telling a story as a female YouTuber who films everything on her iPhone. There is no right storyteller, just the right story to tell.

In The Style grey printed dress

Three dimensional women

It actually makes me feel quite sad that women are often limited by how they present themselves to the world. You can either be pretty and vacuous or unattractive and intelligent. In fact, I often find myself altering what I wear depending on how seriously I want to be taken (and how much harassment I am willing to put up with that day). I’ve had days where I’ve felt dulled and dampened because I know what I wear can impact whether of not people will listen to my message (and how peacefully I can go about my day). We should be able to live three dimensional lives, and if that means posting sultry swimwear photos and sharing imagery and information on a man-made disaster, I’m here for it! I think it sets a dangerous precedent if we exclude people from certain topics based on aesthetics.

So, next time you see people ripping into a (most likely female) influencer for the content they have shared I suggest instead of quote tweeting your hot take you hop on over to their page for the context of the post. If you really feel their content is harmful to the people consuming it, then feel free to offer some constructive comments to the debate. But, if you’re just offended by the way they look/their editing style/the type of content they usually share I suggest you keep on scrolling and keep your opinions to yourself.

The more we insist on only respecting (and consuming) content that fits our exact world view, the more we limit ourselves and our understanding of the world. Open your feed up to different creators, and hey you might learn something new (like the stories of the self settlers of Chernobyl)!

Photography by Stacey White

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