“Saviours” on Instagram – Are they really doing good?

Like philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Did a good deed happen at all if it wasn’t posted to Instagram?

But more seriously, can posting certain “good deeds” in fact cause more harm than good? The simple answer: yes.

I recently shared a series of Instagram Stories on my page after seeing a very influential Instagrammer video themselves giving a banana to what appeared to be a homeless man. The man was on his side with his top slightly up exposing his stomach, and he had a cap in front of him asking for spare change.

Despite not naming who the Influencer was, there were many people quick to jump to their defence and amazingly saw this very high profile influencer as the victim in me sharing my concerns about this, not the man.

So what’s wrong with this?

Just because something feels good and looks good, doesn’t mean it is good. Similarly, you don’t have to be a bad person to have damaging actions. But also, goodwill doesn’t equal good actions.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t about this one individual person (to be fair – I’m told this person does do much that’s good) but this is about the inspiration porn, saviour complex and dehumanisation of those with less privilege for the popularity of people on social media generally.

The fact stands that platforms like Instagram have always been a game played with success measured in likes and followers, and being seen to do kind things gives influencers “compassion points” in their followers’ eyes. People like supporting and following good people especially when social media can often feel very superficial. But if anyone has seen NBC’s The Good Place and examined the character Tahani, they would realise that these “points” are in fact not good at all if your intentions are selfish.

Instagrammers and Influencers need to stop taking advantage and exploiting people more vulnerable than themselves, that society has often pushed to the fringes, just so they can stroke their saviour complex and look like modern day Jesus with an on trend blow wave and the latest designer heels.

Kirsten Bosio, owner of Tiny Bangs and a woman that has experienced first hand what it’s like to be homeless, shared some of her perspective –

“It’s already dehumanising as it is for people to look right through you. But then you have those who want to play your circumstances to their advantage, That’s really upsetting.”

It appears also that no one ever asks these vulnerable people if the “saviour” has consent to share them in their content. Because at the end of the day, many of the people sharing themselves doing “good deeds” like this, consciously or subconsciously, believe they are above the vulnerable person. They don’t need to ask for consent because they see this vulnerable person as lesser and the saviour knows best. They don’t see them as equals.

Whats more is that Saviour Instagrammers rarely allow these vulnerable people dignity. Was this man was okay with hundreds of thousands of people seeing him sleeping rough and without his clothes pulled down?Hypothetically, if this was their father on the street looking vulnerable and slightly dishevelled, would they post it? I’m doubtful. But the more helpless the person is seen as increases how heroic the Instagrammer is perceived.

It’s no surprise that people want to be centred as heroes. Growing up (particularly those that are white people and with money) even fairytales said that in order for the disadvantaged to find themselves in a better position, it always took someone with more privilege than them to help. See Cinderella being pulled out of poverty and domestic violence by a wealthy Prince.

People in need or people with less privilege are rarely allowed to be the hero of their own story.

Luz Restrepo is the Founder and CEO of Sister Works, a not-for-profit that exists to help women migrants, asylum seekers and refugees become financially independent and happily settled in Australia. Talking to her she explained the frustration she felt that in order to receive donations, the women in Sister Works felt they had to tell their stories of struggle.

“we want to share our happy endings that we have fought so hard for so That people will see how successful Sister Works is. We don’t want to open our old wounds and tell our traumas so people will donate.”

So are we really helping if people if they have to pimp out their trauma and pain to receive compassion? (By the way, you can donate to Sister Works here)

Some argue that Influencers document all parts of their lives, so why not also document deeds like this? Well just like influencers withholding their details of their bowel movements or relationship troubles, somethings are just not internet appropriate.

Additionally, sharing “good deeds” like this can cause more harm than good. Perpetuating a saviour complex and that “beggars cant be choosers”, exposing already at risk individuals locations on the internet, disregarding other’s consent, creating inspiration and poverty porn that divides those with privilege and less privilege further, and continuing the white saviour complex is not only not helpful but damaging(You can see Stella young talk about “inspiration porn” here  and see more about the “white saviour complex” here andhere )

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an argument that altruism and helping others is not a wonderful thing to do. But altruism isn’t true altruism if it’s for personal gain and disregard of the autonomy of others.

There are many acts of good gesture that are wonderful to post on social media that don’t have to exploit others; Maybe you’ve paid it forward by shouting someone a drink behind you in the line at a cafe? Maybe you’re volunteering to tree sit to stop deforestation? Or maybe you’re going to a protest and it means a lot to you and you want to tell other’s about it? Excellent. Post away. Centralise the cause, educate, and encourage others to do the same. None of these deeds need to exploit individuals.

You can also be far more philanthropic than tokenistic by elevating non-for-profits, charities and organisations that do good rather than virtue signalling yourself.

Because at the end of the day these people are called “influencers” for a reason and sharing proactive ways that followers can help others is indeed a good influence. But a influencers need to be far more cautious of how they use their influence, and in turn how their influence can be at the detriment to others.

Want to donate to Australian organisations that are helping those experiencing homelessness, hunger or disadvantage? Here is a list of some organisations.

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Swipe right — > Image descriptions: First image is a red, brown and black pattern with text reading, “On Advocacy and Using Someone Else’s Story as Your Platform”. The following four slides are screen shots of our tweets that read, “You can want to fight stigma and shame but you do not get to make that decision for someone else on how and when their story is shared. If you want to disclose your own trauma, HIV status, sexual identity, mental illness, adoption or any other intimate part of your life, that’s incredible, as your story is YOURS to tell. But there is often compounded trauma and pain experienced when this choice is made FOR us by our parents, partners, friends and even strangers. That is why laws around confidentiality exist. This is why INFORMED consent is so important. This seems especially relevant to the white savior complex, as we so often see an entitlement to share highly personal information about Black and Brown communities (and adopted children) that just does not happen within your home countries. Often, I wish people really stopped and thought about how it would feel if things were reversed and we were instead sharing their story without their consent. There are other ways to fight stigma and shame than using someone else as your soapbox” {end image descriptions} • Yesterday we commented on a video where a prominent American Evangelical leader disclosed her child’s HIV status (the little girl is adopted from Haiti). We don’t doubt that @lisadharper has a big heart or that she is passionate but I really need to understand this logic that adopted parents have in disclosing such intimate details of a child’s story and identity. • This is not concerning because anyone should have to hide or live in shame about being HIV+ but because it should be their choice how and when they share this information with the world • A few of you joined in the conversation where we directly challenged this behavior — @youbethecat @fp365 @lindseytrouthughes @jillian_mccue_m @gmariejohnson — we are grateful that you share in our concerns and that you also want to see people practice more caution in what is shared.

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