Celebrity Activism: Are Good Intentions Good Enough?

“We’ll win if we work together as one, the people. The power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power” – Bono, 2013 TED Talk

“Problems should not be glamourized by the association of celebrities” – Dambisa Moyo

Bob Geldof and Bono campaigning against poverty. Source.
Bob Geldof and Bono campaigning against poverty. Source.

Bono is first and foremost, a singer. However recently he’s become the face of combatting poverty in Africa, and taken on the role as an activist, economist, politician, humanitarian and framed as an angel to save all of the ‘poor Africans.’ Throughout the 80’s, he worked with Bob Geldof on the Live Aid concerts and has heavily campaigned to fight poverty in Africa, especially Ethiopia. In 2005 he went on to campaign for the Make Poverty History Movement which was more focused on social justice rather than charity. And then in 2014, he is featured on the single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ to fight the ebola outbreak in West Africa, raising millions of pounds.

Bono brings his good intentions to Africa. Source
Bono brings his good intentions to Africa. Source

There is an issue here. Celebrities like Bono who become activists for large-scale social and humanitarian issues are not experts on poverty, inequality and sustainable development. Yet he has met with Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Bill Gates and various other politicians and powerful actors to generate policy change and create global awareness (Why Poverty, 2012). He has inadvertently become the face of anti poverty. Bono already has millions of people who look up to them, respect them, hate him or talk about him across the globe and he’s using a unique platform to spread his message.

Celebrities are not experts and can often oversimplify a very complex issue such as poverty. The infamous Make Poverty History video above features many different celebrities. Dambisa Moyo is a Ghanese economist and activist who is extremely ‘anti-Bono’ due to his ignorance of the complexity of poverty and lack of results. In a recent televised debate, Moyo states that the West needs to stop being sympathetic and start being empathetic and realizing that Africans are doing a lot of grassroots work to create change (Black Wall Street, 2015). Another issue is the media portrayal of Africa and their people as the victims, and people like Bono and Bob Geldof as the white saviour (Davis, 2010), which contributes to a sympathetic view of ‘poor Africa.’ Moyo says that, ‘Africa’s debt problems should not be glamourized by the association of celebrities who’s actions are more often than not self-perpetrating,’ (Fitzpatrick, 2011) and that is where we find the problem with celebrity activism.

The 2014 release of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ sparked controversy and further encourages this ‘poor Africa’ perception. It plays on one of the main parts of Moyo’s book, where she highlights how ‘the West is patronizing Africans’ (Easterly, 2009). The video is solely focused on the singers and celebrities that resonates with the Make Poverty History video of ‘spot the celebrity.’ Sure, it starts with some graphic images, and sure, they raised a lot of money… but is that enough?

Africa re-conquered by Hollywood. Source

Celebrities are experts at grabbing people’s attention and creating emotional responses in people. The images and videos they broadcast are heart wrenching, because they’re designed that way. Nash explains that people need to see themselves as part of the ‘global political community’ (Nash, 2008). No one’s going to sign a petition, donate money or be a part of a protest unless they’ve felt personally motivated to do so, and celebrities can make this happen. Many argue that ‘at least celebrities are doing something with their power,’ but is it really justified if the damage they are creating is greater than their ‘good acts.’ Are good intentions, good enough?

So how do we ensure that the work celebrities are doing is progressive and beneficial for those affected by the issue they represent? Alex Dewaal says that there are ‘fundamental pillars of activism which should always be followed, most of all, the act of responding to and collaborating with local people, rather than imposing outside agendas’ (Dewaal, 2013). Celebrities should be held accountable and responsible for their actions. They shouldn’t engage in humanitarian activism unless they’re willing to follow through and commit to the cause they represent.


Black Wall Street, 2015, ‘Debate: Foreign Aid does more harm than good’, Black Wall Street, 13 March, 45:54 – 47:46, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWlLE7IohXo

Cole, G. Radley, B. Falisse, J.B 2015, ‘Who really benefits from celebrity activism?’, The Guardian, 10 July, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/10/celebrity-activism-africa-live-aid 

Davis, H 2010, ‘Feeding the world a line?: Celebrity activism and ethical consumer practices from Live Aid to Product Red’, Nordic Journal of English Studies, Miami University, Vol 9.3, pp 111-115

Dewall, A 2013, ‘Reclaiming Activism’, World Peace Foundation, 30 April, https://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2013/04/30/reclaiming-activism/

Fitzpatrick, S 2011, ‘The Moyo-Bono Divide: What are the Opposing Sides?’, Hubpages, 14 February, http://siouxtrick.hubpages.com/hub/The-Moyo-Bono-Divide

Nash, K 2008, ‘Global citizenship as showbusiness: the cultural politics of Make Poverty History’, Media Culture Society, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 167-181

Why Poverty, 2012, ‘Give Us The Money’, Why Poverty, 10 December, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgGP3zV8kdU

Further Information

Bono’s 2013 TED Talk

Band Aid 30’s cover of Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Why Poverty’s documentary exploring the efforts of Bono and Bob Geldof along with their accomplishments and criticism

How does convergence affect the relationship between media technologies and audiences?

How does convergence affect the relationship between media technologies and audiences?

In today’s interconnected, technologically shaped society, the world is actively connected to a broader community across various platforms through convergence. Convergence of technological platforms, such as Tinder, greatly affects media technologies and especially audiences, and these outlets in return influence Tinder. The audience aspects of accessibility, participatory culture, activism and online identity shape a strong relationship between Tinder and its users. Tinder is radically influencing social changes regarding romance, where it’s the audience who are generating content and contributing to this change.

Convergence applies to many media platforms and technologies like apps, devices, being both a technological and cultural process (Moore, 2014). Technology and society is continuously changing. Technologies such as Tinder reflect the demands and values of society, and society reflects and influences changes in technology; they are both interconnected and shape each other. Convergence is a term supported and explored by Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at the Univeristy of Southern California. Jenkins defined convergence as ‘the flow of content across multiple media platforms. Convergence describes technological, industrial, cultural and social changes’ (Jenkins, 2006, pp 2-3). Convergence is triangulated. It shapes and is affected by audiences and technologies, through the movement of information across the world. Technological convergence is shaped by; minimizing costs, user friendliness and practicality. Convergence is also defined as ‘coming together of two of more distinct entities’ (Jones, 2007), which encompasses technology and society. Convergence is a broad term used to describe a broad range of people, technologies and platforms, all of which are affected by convergence.

Cultural and social changes in regards to online dating, relationships and intimacy are epitomized through the dating app, Tinder. Developed in the University of Southern California in late 2012 by three self-confessed hopeless romantics, Sean Rad, Justin Mateen and Jonathan Badeen, they created Tinder to connect you with other people who are interested in you. (App Store, n.d) Tinder exemplifies the concepts of convergence, as described by co-founder Sean Rad, ‘it is a digital extension of our instinct to connect on a deeper level with one another, romantically or otherwise.’ (Rad, 2014) Tinder is a convergent technology because of the various content (photos, text, personal information) flowing across different mediums (apps, websites, smart phones) from people across the world. Tinder requires its users to have a Facebook account for identity verification, where it displays your age, interests and mutual friends along with six photos. Tinder also requires various platforms to function and you can also exchange email addresses, phone numbers and meet in person, emphasising the state of convergence of Tinder. Whilst the app is wildly superficial, Tinder does reflect the current changing societal perspectives of relationships, intimacy and hook-ups (Morris, 2014). The strong relationship the audience has with this technology is enhanced by the relationships created on Tinder, satisfying the migratory audience’s online social desires.

Tinder complies with the concepts of convergence predominantly due to the ease of accessibility and limited gatekeeping, allowing high rates of participatory culture and audience engagement. Tinder is a diologic[1] technology, which has minimal gatekeepers[2] or restrictions promoting participatory culture (Moore, 2014). This is achieved through the accessibility of the app. A user must have a Facebook account to download the app for free on Apple and Android phones, and once your identity is verified, you are ready to use Tinder. With lack of monitoring and gatekeeping, it permits people to more actively engage with Tinder and creates a unique participatory culture, where people use computer screens as a mask, where we aren’t confronted by the consequences of our actions, where we gain a false sense of freedom and confidence’ (Haynes, 2014). You can access the app on your phone anytime of any day, permitting you have internet access, with users checking Tinder approximately 11 times per day (Ayers, 2014). Along with the ease of using the app, the technology of Tinder influences and affects its audience, where they can engage in easy social interaction with minimal effort. The ease and freedom of Tinder is a primary convergent concept, strengthening the relationships between audience and technology.

Through the ease of accessibility comes strong participatory culture, where the audience connects with people and the app itself. Jenkins defines participatory culture as ‘a culture with low barriers to expression and engagement, support for creating and sharing, the audience believes their contribution matters and they feel a sense of social connection’ (Jenkins, 2006). Audiences engaging in Tinder initiate or receive conversations with their ‘matches’[3] creating a sense of community as participants talk about themselves and their interests. The majority of Tinder’s audience are Millenials[4] who are more likely to engage is casual hook-ups than serious relationships at university (Bogle, 2008), making this app incredibly appealing and addictive. The app was not designed specifically for hook-ups like its competitor Grindr[5] however, it’s the changes in attitudes of society, which have embraced these opportunities and shaped the purpose of Tinder ‘to get laid’ (Epstein, n.d) http://www.news.com.au/national/south-australia/love-me-tinder-dating-in-the-new-app-era/story-fnii5yv4-1226880118593 … new stigma attached to dating app @tinder#bcm112(@missaaadelaide, Tweet, 2014) explains how Tinder is changing the societal stigma attached to online dating, through this media it explains the changing affects Tinder has on audiences and the technology itself. Tinder’s audience have a shared understanding that it’s for hook-ups, contributing to the online community created. This convergence of the audience utilising the app has ultimately lead to the success of the app and satisfaction of its users.

Tinder provides many opportunities for its captivated users, requiring the audience to transform from ‘clicktivists’ to ‘activists.’ Clicktivism[6] and Activism[7] is mostly associated with ‘participatory politics,’ however, on a smaller, non-political scale, lies Tinder, which resembles similar difficulties of turning clicktivism into activism. Whilst engaging in clicktivism, you can be swiping left and right, and chatting to matches from the comfort of your home in your pyjamas, requiring minimal physical effort. Obviously depending on the individual you have been engaging with, the act of meeting up to go on a date requires a lot of physical effort, and doing so is converting clicktivism and a lot of flirting to activism. An active user admits he meets with ‘3-4 of those matches per month’ (Thrillhouse763, 2014). The expectation is that you will eventually meet one of your matches as Tinder’s Tweets suggest ‘here’s how to pick the perfect restaurant in London for your #Tinder date: bit.ly/1mEr1nb via @Grazia_Live’ (@Tinder, 2014). However, it is mostly used by clicktivists who where Tinder ‘complements (their) lazy and attention-seeking personality’ (Kent, 2013). According to co-founder Sean Rad, there have been over 1billion matches on Tinder (Rad 2014) where the app is responsible for over 1000 engagements (Piazza, 2014), which is a 0.0000001% success rate, representing that users are remaining clicktivists, or the Tinder flame just doesn’t burn. Despite the convergence of personal information across not only Tinder, the audience appears to leave their dates on their phones.

Individuals who participate in convergent technologies such as Tinder inherently create an online identity, which can expose them to ridicule and abuse.  This online identity can be vastly different from their ‘real’ identity because a screen acts as a mask, giving the user a sense of anonymity and associated power. Women have faced many issues throughout history, and now, online, with ‘internet misogyny (often) paralleling the real world.’ The constant misogynist perspectives shown through comments online are; ‘women who have the audacity to show their faces online are asking to be demeaned and threatened with sexual violence’ (Filipovic, 2007-2008). Purely because you identify as a female on Tinder, it immediately opens you up to an influx of sexual messages purely because you are a female. Messages such as, ‘sit on my face’ and ‘I could’ve called heaven and asked for an angel but I was hoping you’re a slut instead’ (Parham, 2013). Whilst perhaps intended as a joke as Parham suggests, the constant bombardment of sexual harassment, slowly takes its toll on the morale of individual women online (Dreher, 2014). Dreher passionately speaks of the struggles of women’s equality online and if change is going to occur, we must stop hiding behind technology to abuse others. With convergence, unfortunately brings some disadvantages for women. Despite the light-hearted nature of Tinder, the affects of the technology on its audience can be more severe than intended.

Tinder encompasses diverse aspects of convergence, with the flow of information greatly affecting its audience and the app itself. Tinder encourages audience engagement and strong participatory culture. Limited gatekeeping addresses social issues, questioning clicktivism and activism, and the constant battle of online identity and equality of women. Whilst Tinder may appear a little app that is a craze of popularity, it epitomizes the key concepts of convergence and how it affects and shapes societies, where society in return shapes Tinder.




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