This article is sponsored by the voice in your head saying, “I should register to vote tomorrow.” That voice is tired. It wants to go back to telling you that you don’t need that third doughnut, or to finish that last set of bicep curls, or to call your parents. Setting up a voting plan takes just a few minutes, but if you still fail to comply, the voice in your head may be able to retire anyway.
Across social media, many artists, celebrities, and athletes have been asking their fans to vote. They offer constant reminders to register, request absentee ballots, and find polling places. The practice has become so commonplace, that those staying silent on the topic have started to receive backlash from their fans. As a result, the digitally famous have standardized the need to inform followers as to the importance of their democratic responsibility.
We live in a post-silent world when it comes to political involvement, but that does not necessarily mean that artists should be taking it a step further by telling their followers who to vote for. Teaching fans how to vote is one thing, but lobbying for certain candidates or positions requires another step: a minimum standard of being informed. Many in the digitally famous community are ill-equipped to take that step.
While having a platform does come with certain responsibilities, hypocrisy has become far too prevalent. The constant stream of half-truths goes far beyond the world of influencers, as we see social media platforms themselves struggle with the balance between freedom of speech and a well-informed electorate. Regardless of the legal implications, teaching followers how to vote requires a modicum of research. What’s more, vying for a particular candidate or issue requires a deeper dive into multifaceted research, attempting to gain an understanding of all sides. Anything less is irresponsible. We have given out far too many megaphones without checking if the purchasers have a license to carry. The edification must be a prerequisite.
However, even before the research begins, there must be a clear media strategy. In my experience, those that purely point toward tools, do so out of fear. Fear of losing fans, fear of harming a career they have worked hard to build, fear of the social media backlash. Those that take the activist approach also speak out of fear. However their fear comes from a different place: fear of losing certain rights, fear of racism and supremacy, fear of the future. Both sets of concerns are legitimate, but legitimacy is not binary.
I have experienced both kinds of fear. At one point in my life, I let the fear of losing my audience guide my actions. It dictated the words that came from the pen I put to digital paper. Now I no longer experience that kind of fear. The pen has always been a tool for change. I use it as one to change minds. I choose to make my political preferences clear, but never without an articulated reason.
That second piece is most critical. I like to think that I act as a compactor, taking in hundreds of articles, speeches, and research papers, distilling them into something that I can easily explain to the people that listen when I speak. This is a core responsibility of having an audience, treating them with the respect they deserve, even if the messaging is somewhat partisan. Even so, it only becomes partisan after the work is put in to understand why. There may be a few fandoms that blindly follow their leaders, but I like to think that most people need to be convinced of something before they will believe it.
The unfollow button is a temptress lurking in the corner. As a fan reading this article, it is (partially) up to you to decide what you want to hear. As an artist reading this article, you have the right to stay silent, share information, or advocate. Sometimes, the information goes beyond the informative, approaching the passionate. A wide-ranging and in-depth understanding of the messaging is vital as we approach the election.
As you, fan and artist alike, are making the decision, think twice about what it means to stay silent, what it means to provide the tools for people to vote, and what it means to speak passionately in front of audiences larger and more attentive than many of the candidates have. Remember, the last election was decided by a few thousand votes. Now think about how many followers you have…
Adam Met is a 6x Certified Platinum member of the band AJR and host of the new podcast, Planet Reimagined. He is also the executive director of Sustainable Partners, Inc. an interdisciplinary nonprofit that creates engagement around sustainability through media, research, and incentive-based initiatives.