Influence can be a powerful force. Armed with the power of influence, you can inspire and support others, but people can use their influence in a way that can also be extremely destructive and disheartening to others. This dichotomy of influence regularly plays out over the Internet, where celebrities, aptly labeled “influencers”, impact the thoughts and actions of their followers. Too often those with influence disregard the negative impacts that they can have.
For example, on July 27th, 2021, United States gymnast Simone Biles, 24, announced her decision to drop out of the 2020 Olympic all-around competition for mental health reasons. Following her decision, some influencers were quick to offer support and encouragement. Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, 57, tweeted a positive message on July 27 regarding Biles’ decision: “Am I good enough? Yes, I am. The mantra I practice daily. @Simone_Biles, we are proud of you and we are rooting for you. Congratulations on the silver medal, Team @USA! 🎊.”
Other influencers, such as Texas Deputy Attorney General, Aaron Reitz, 34, and Chris Buskrik, an American writer, editor, publisher, and businessman, 52, were not so supportive. Buskirk took to Twitter and said “In 1996, Kerri Strug went back out on the mats for the finals & had a spectacular performance despite a severely injured ankle. She did it because it was the only way Team USA had a chance at Gold. Due to her effort, Team USA won Gold. Amazing grit. The great ones find a way.”
Reitz later replied to the tweet: “Contrast this with our selfish, childish national embarrassment, Simone Biles.” General Reitz’s account has now been deleted.
What influencers say can have a huge impact on others. Neither Obama nor General Reitz knew what Biles was experiencing and what prompted her decision. But by sending a positive message of hope, Michelle Obama likely inspired countless others to make difficult, and often unpopular, decisions, when such decisions were the correct ones for those individuals. On the contrary, General Reitz perpetuated the false notion that mental health is secondary and likely influenced countless others to perpetuate this.
At the surface, the above responses to Biles’ decision encapsulate the dichotomy of influence: positive and negative. But is it really that simple?
Doesn’t Rietz have a right to express his opinion? And do not many share his beliefs? How else would he be labeled an “influencer”? Nonetheless, he deleted his account because of the negativity that he received in response to his tweet, from those claiming that it is wrong. As a result, others used their influence to silence a critic of their position. This can lead to an endless cycle.
What is the solution? Should Reitz be more mindful of his power and the effect of his words? Should those being influenced be more discerning of so-called influencers? There is no clear cut answer to this never-ending problem. Perhaps, as a society, there needs to be changes on how everything is viewed with a polarizing lens. Just like influence, which can be good or bad, the decisions made from the influence can be good or bad.