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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Social media influencers should take responsibility

Those in the public eye must remember the duty of care they owe to their followers

The "kiki challenge" spread by social media influencers on the internet has endangered lives. Getty 
The "kiki challenge" spread by social media influencers on the internet has endangered lives. Getty 

Great responsibility, the guardians of the French revolution used to say, follows inseparably from great power. It is a tenet the revolutionaries violated but one which the deities of our own digital age – the so-called social media influencers – would do well to uphold. While some deploy their popularity on social media to raise awareness or activate mass movements in support of good causes, others use their fame only to perpetuate it; the former may be divisive in seeking social justice but the latter can be reckless in pursuit of notoriety.

It is from this impulse that the “kiki challenge” – which originated in an innocuous Instagram video of a man dancing on the street to a song by the Canadian rapper Drake and grew into a viral trend that now dares users to dance to the same song alongside moving vehicles – emerged. Videos posted on the internet show drivers jumping out of their cars to perform the stunt and losing control of their vehicles, endangering other commuters on the road. Spanish authorities have released a video compilation showing drivers smashing into lampposts as they attempt to record themselves. Egypt has banned the challenge.

And Abu Dhabi has rightly sought to arrest a trio of social media influencers who sought to spread the trend in the UAE. The response to those who abuse their position to foster hazardous and harmful behaviour should be punitive. Motorists caught taking part in the challenge could face up to Dh2,000 in fines and 23 black points on their licences in addition to the confiscation of their cars.

The power of influencers has often been tethered to worthwhile causes. Recently, when the actress Natalie Portman took to Instagram to explain her opposition to the politics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it prompted a wider conversation in the Jewish diaspora where Ms Portman is known primarily as a prominent supporter of Israel. Similarly, it was an exchange on Twitter that prompted the New Zealand singer Lorde to look deeper into Israel’s conduct and cancel her tour of the country. But firm and decisive action is the best deterrent against those who put the internet to baleful uses. Social media influencers and posters should realise that they possess immense power to sway their followers, who are often young and impressionable. Their cult status comes with a certain level of responsibility. They should be under no illusions: if they abuse it, they should and will be reined in.

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