In the age of social media in which celebrities and influencers occupy our daily conscience more than ever, we — as Gen Z — may expect them to act as sources of news for world events. Being a part-time news anchor has essentially become part of the package of fame.

A collaborative digital news report by the Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford in June 2023 found that the participants in their data paid more attention to news coming from celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities than actual journalists on TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. In the same report, their data shows that younger online users are visiting news sites less frequently.

Though the data may seem to present an untapped potential for celebrities to become educators of world events, I see this emerging culture of equating celebrities to a news source as a concern for journalistic integrity. With their mass following, celebrities wield the power to create tangible effects for the news industry — but right now, they’re just not doing it effectively.

When two arenas of the media collide

The first distinction between celebrities and journalists is that celebrities often do not share news in the objective way that credible journalists are expected to do. I think celebrities’ and influencers’ posts on world events tend to be constructed through a lens of social activism rather than as a vehicle of journalistic reporting. 

I don’t see this as inherently bad, but I believe a problem arises when viewers interpret the information in the same way they consume news — with the assumption that information is presented impartially. With parasocial relationships between fans and celebrities, it is easy to blindly adopt a celebrity’s political stance. Or, at least, the political stance that they project to the public.

Shockingly, celebrities are not just ‘regular’ people. They are products. Their social media presence is cautiously crafted by a big team of publicists to ensure maximum profit. What they deliver to the public will more than likely prioritize the celebrity’s marketability rather than aim to educate their consumers. I’ve observed this leading to celebrities using an over-sanitized, over-simplified, and a ‘bothsidesism’ framing of political events that adds nothing productive to the conversation. 

At best, a celebrity’s input makes a marginal impact. At worst, it’s harmful to the communities involved. Although celebrity figures play a potentially crucial role in dispersing news, they are mostly not political experts nor held to any significant standard of journalistic integrity — hence, I worry it may lead us down a path of misinformation. For example, Justin Bieber faced backlash in October 2023 for sharing a now-deleted Instagram post saying “Pray for Israel,” despite the image used alongside it depicting destruction in Gaza. 

Celebrities’ support for certain political stances will ebb and flow according to consumers and stakeholders. ‘Cancelling’ celebrities for their politics dates before the days of TikTok, evident in the case of the American country band, The Chicks, who were blacklisted by the music industry for criticizing then-president George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. 

Additionally, although BLM’s #BlackOutTuesday protest began as an attempt to disrupt the digital industry, celebrities and influencers were criticized for exploiting the protest performatively to retain followers. The money runs both ways — celebrities can either get ‘cancelled’ by the industry or by the masses. 

Of course, these examples bleed into the realm of social activism rather than news. However, they showcase the difficulty for celebrities and influencers to be trustworthy news sources when they’re also under the threat of losing viewership.

Spotlighting, platforming, and amplifying

All of this sounds pretty negative about the relationship between celebrities and news, but I think that celebrities can do great things for news media — depending on how they do it. 

Especially for famous figures who have profited off principles of liberation and equality in their work, I believe they have a moral duty to bring attention to situations across the world where those same principles are endangered. I’m reluctant to say that social media posts don’t do anything and that therefore celebrities should stop sharing political content — if their social media posts would make even just one person aware of the news, I think it’s a difference worth making. 

But, simultaneously, I believe celebrities should be platforming voices with more nuanced knowledge and robust documentation about the news events to maximize the use of their large following and to reduce misinformation. Perhaps they could start by inviting publicly-known journalists to take over celebrities’ online accounts to give them wider exposure or spotlighting existing news articles and credible journalistic resources. The vital thing is to centre informed voices for viewers to educate themselves with rather than treating celebrities themselves as a source of news. 

Of course, the risk of blacklisting from the industry or public will continue to loom over celebrities when they choose who to platform and not. But, it seems the only way out of this is for celebrities to show strength through numbers and offer solidarity to those who get penalized for platforming resources that they can prove credible.

I believe we should start dedicating ourselves more to supporting journalists’ craft in a similar way we rave about celebrities’ films and songs. Don’t get me wrong — we shouldn’t treat journalists like celebrities in the sense that they should wear garish costumes to the MET gala or cash out a million dollars from posing with the newest perfume scent — but we should start investing more of our time, attention, and empathy into journalists. In fact, I’m glad to see the increased interest in journalists happening now with on-the-ground Palestinian journalists who are accruing unprecedented numbers of Instagram followers

Yet, as the lines between celebrity, influencer, and journalist begin to blur, it is worth reflecting on what exactly those roles entail and paying attention to where the boundaries between those three begin and end.

Charmaine Yu is a third-year student at Trinity College studying political science and English. She is an editor-in-chief of The Trinity Review and the What’s New In News columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.