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On social-media, Black women's content is monetized and appropriated without paying tribute to the creators

On social-media, Black women's content is monetized and appropriated without paying tribute to the creators
  • Influencing is the new American dream, but female creators are often exploited and underpaid.

  • In the influencer world, Black female creators see their work co-opted without credit or apology.

  • This is an adapted excerpt from "Over the Influence: Why Social Media Is Toxic for Women and Girls — And How We Can Take It Back" by Kara Alaimo.

Brittany Ashley was at BuzzFeed's Golden Globe party at Eveleigh, a hot West Hollywood restaurant. Ashley, who cheekily calls herself "America's lesbian sweetheart," was one of the most well-known actresses on BuzzFeed's YouTube channels, starring in videos that were viewed by millions. But she wasn't there to celebrate with her colleagues. She was there to wait on them.

The harsh reality: Ashley needed to waitress on top of all her other hard work in order to pay her bills. In fact, waitressing was the primary way she earned her living. At the time, she says, BuzzFeed was sometimes paying her $50 or $100 per video, sometimes not paying her a cent — all while telling her to lean into her queer identity and then making money as her videos about her identity racked up views.

Waiting on her colleagues was embarrassing

The party was "absolute hell," Ashley later told me. "I felt super uncomfortable the entire time." But the look on her colleagues' faces when they saw her was familiar. It was the same look she got from other customers when they realized their server was internet-famous.

"You would just watch someone's face be really confused and disappointed and that pity they projected onto me really messed with me," she said.

Welcome to the real world of most social media influencers.

Becoming a social media influencer is the new American dream

If you read the news, you may have noticed that the media loves to tell stories like that of 27-year-old Andrea Romo. She earned $12.50 per hour working at Lowe's until one day she uploaded a video of her sister deep frying a turkey that became so popular that Snapchat paid her about half a million dollars. Or Maryland high school student Katie Feeney, who was paid over a million dollars by Snapchat in two months for her videos, like one of her hoverboarding in different outfits.

These stories have become the new version of the American dream. So it's no wonder why the majority of American teens would like to be influencers.

But here's the reality: The vast majority — 77% of influencers on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram — are women, according to a 2019 study by the influencer marketing platform Klear. And the median salary for a woman influencer is just $10,000, according to a 2022 report by Influencer Marketing Hub.

For the record, that's a fraction of the federal poverty level of $30,000 for a family of four in the United States. Kylie Jarrett, Ph.D., a scholar of media studies, refers to women content creators as "digital housewives," which is fitting because they often earn the same salary as stay-at-home moms: $0.

Women and people of color don't get the credit they deserve

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule: the mega-influencers who reportedly get paid five, six, or even seven figures per post. And we all keep talking about them, which helps mask the reality of a system in which primarily women create content that helps men like Mark Zuckerberg get ridiculously rich by selling ads to the people who view it. Zuck took home over $27 million in compensation in 2022. Meanwhile, many of these women earn little or nothing to support their own families.

Some of the most exploited people of all are Black women and girls who create content, then watch it get appropriated and monetized by others. You might remember the Renegade dance that went viral on TikTok in 2020. It was created by Jalaiah Harmon, a 14-year-old Black girl in Georgia, but popularized by Charli D'Amelio, the white TikToker who was one of the platform's biggest stars, and copied by mega influencers like Kourtney Kardashian and Lizzo.

"I was happy when I saw my dance all over," Jalaiah told The New York Times. "But I wanted credit for it."

When she commented on posts asking influencers to tag her, they mostly ignored or ridiculed her, Jalaiah said. Then the NBA invited white TikTokers to perform the dance during its All-Star slam dunk contest. Jalaiah wasn't extended an invite until later on, when her exclusion generated social media outrage.

It's an industrywide problem with no change in sight

Similarly, in 2021, Jimmy Fallon invited white TikTok star Addison Rae to perform a series of dances on his show without crediting the original creators. One of the dances, to Cardi B's song "Up," was created by 15-year-old Black TikToker Mya Nicole with her friend Chris Cotter.

When she saw Rae on the show, Mya told Elle, "I sent it to Chris like, Dang, that could've been us performing our own dance." They were eventually invited on the show via Zoom — but only after, you guessed it, social media outcry. The experience is so common among Black creators that in the summer of 2021, they went on strike to protest the practice of appropriating their work.

After spending three years interviewing more than fifty young women who produce social media content in women-dominated areas like fashion, Cornell professor Brooke Erin Duffy, Ph.D., concluded that they perform what she calls "aspirational labor." They mostly go unpaid or underpaid but are "remunerated with deferred promises of 'exposure' or 'visibility,'" thinking they might make money in the future. Only that future never seems to come.

Excerpted from "Over the Influence: Why Social Media Is Toxic for Women and Girls — And How We Can Take It Back" (Alcove Press, March 5, 2024). Reprinted with permission from Alcove Press.

Read the original article on Business Insider