Chatty Peel/ Courier
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Upon the recent news that TikTok influencers Bryce Hall and Blake Gray are being criminally charged after throwing raging parties during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to rethink who the true influencers are.

What exactly does an “Influencer” do? As described by Merriam-Webster: “One who exerts influence: a person who inspires or guides the actions of others.” We are all facing multiple simultaneous crises, weighing heavily on us individually and collectively. At a time when young people need inspiration and guidance from influential figures, the social media glam squad fails in that capacity. 

All they offer is the voyeuristic pretense of escapist parties, which became obsolete and lost relevance in mid-March when the pandemic changed our way of life. Any remaining scrap of gravity in this empty existence evaporated when the social justice revolution emerged in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. 

Since then, influencers have been outclassed by many of their followers, who have stepped up to be of service in their communities in ways not always seen or glorified. Not by using a BLM march as a selfie background or performative virtue-signaling content, but by actually participating in our democracy and offering help selflessly to others in need.

The statewide lockdown orders went into effect in California on March 19. In one day, there were three coronavirus-related deaths recorded and 244 new cases detected statewide. According to information from the California Department of Public Health, by August 14, the single-day numbers were 12,600 new cases and 151 COVID-related deaths. Social media Influencers don’t seem to get the message: the party is over. At least until the spread of the virus is under control.

Even Machete says: Lock it down. Lifetime Angeleno, actor and entrepreneur Danny Trejo used his position of influence to send a message to his 1.7 million Instagram followers, encouraging them to lay off the house parties.

“Now, listen up! Bars and clubs are closed for a reason. That’s no excuse to turn your house into the next party hotspot, because it’s liable to become the next coronavirus hot spot.” The cinema tough guy warns, “So please, let’s put those parties on hold! Let’s stop the spread of COVID-19.” The Machete actor admonishes, “Keep your mask on, stay six feet apart…and cool the parties, homes, come on.”

While YouTubers and TikTokers see their dominion of influence rapidly laid bare by their inability to meet the moment, professional sports figures are rising to the occasion in a historical manner, and becoming the influential leaders the times are calling for. 

Pro athletes have sensed the urgency of the day, and the weight of their responsibility in it. Covid-19 wasn’t enough to sideline the seasons of the NBA, MLB, WNBA and NHL because they sought responsible ways to follow the guidelines recommended by scientists. However, after the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, influential sports figures could not carry on with their scheduled games in light of the social injustice continuing to play out on the streets of America. 

Social media Influencers need to step up to the level of our athletes and realize now is not the time for partying and playing, now is the time for serious sober conversation about what the future of the country is going to look like. But can the party-set Influencers rise to the challenge? 

As Bob Dylan so memorably sang, “There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin.’” 

Today our war is being fought on the multiple fronts of social and economic justice and equality, the ongoing COVID health crisis, the related economic collapse which has gutted entire sectors, and the struggle to defeat science-denying, voter-suppressing, white supremacist-praising, authoritarian capitalists at the ballot box. 

If one has an influential platform, there is a responsibility to use it for the greater good and not for self-seeking ends.To borrow a phrase from history, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Or, as Rage Against the Machine put it, “What better place than here, what better time than now?”

We all have work to do for each other. The party can wait.

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