Julie Gray

From social media influencer to dangerous narcissist

If you've ever wondered how 'ordinary' people become complicit in atrocities, look no further than 'Jill' on TikTok
Social media influencers and dangerous narcissism
On social media, popularity trumps rationality.

Until a few days ago, a “big creator” on TikTok with almost four million followers was my “mutual.” That’s TikTok slang for we followed each other’s accounts and occasionally exchanged messages. About a week ago, they messaged me that they were suffering terribly because “haters” were calling them an antisemite or, alternatively, an Islamophobe. I was confused. This creator’s content had usually been a combination of videos making fun of bad recipes (one of my favorite TikTok niches) and “social justice” issues like standing with the LGBTQIA community, speaking out about book banning, and generally being very inclusive and quite liberal. This creator, let’s call them Jill, hails from the Midwest and is a kind of earth-mother figure on TikTok. Hence, the millions of followers. But now, they said, they were getting so much hate.

I told Jill that I was very sorry and asked why. Because, Jill told me, they had “spoken” about the war between Israel and Hamas. Uh oh. Red flag. But I didn’t want to flush this “mutual” relationship down the toilet, so I tried to be supportive. Over a long series of messages, I advised Jill to stick with what they know. I praised their work and said I didn’t think it reasonable that they should be expected to weigh in on something they don’t know much about. Suddenly, the messages ceased. Then, another message appeared. It was a TikTok that had just been uploaded. In this TikTok, Jill was sobbing. Big, wrenching, rib-cracking sobs. They said that someone that they would not name – someone had just told them to shut up! Someone they had supported! Someone they cared about! They would never forget this hurt!

Then Jill promptly resumed our messaging conversation. They berated me for “silencing” them, and I admit I got angry. I said, “I cannot imagine your pain and suffering from your home in (blank). What a terrible, brutal world.”

The comments on Jill’s sobbing video were intensely empathetic and supportive. Commenters said they would lay down their lives for anyone who had hurt this creator. They said they would “ride at dawn” and begged Jill to reveal the name of the heartless monster who had hurt her. Last I checked, there were over 350K views of this video.

A couple of days later, Jill, having recovered yet still milking the moment for all it was worth, made a TikTok letting everyone know she was okay! More comments about the fragility of Jill and her monumental importance on social media. Jill was lavished with the love and attention she needs so very badly.

A few days after that, Jill reposted a video showing a young woman in a hijab claiming that Israel has the world’s largest “skin bank” and is stealing the skin and organs of Gazans. Millions of followers have been exposed to a modern version of Jewish blood libel thanks to Jill “using her voice.” I was slack-jawed at such reckless behavior in the name of “speaking out.” Under the reposted video, Jill added, “How could they?!” Indeed, Jill.

The (late) realization that Jill and many influencers like them are full-blown narcissists claiming to use their platforms for “good” while quite openly fishing for approval online hit me like a ton of bricks. Why had this never struck me quite so clearly?

Over all the years that I have studied the Holocaust through the story of Gidon, through reading, writing, and making content about it, I was never able to really grasp how it happened. I don’t mean the trains and the pits and the murder. I mean, how did ordinary people allow it to come to that? How did sophisticated, intelligent, creative Germans come to support the Nazi regime long before the killing began?

Now, suddenly, I get it. If it’s popular to hold a belief, if it’s trendy, people are happy and willing to trade clear thinking and values to be liked, whether on social media today or in the salons of Europe. It’s trendy to hate Jews now. When it’s trendy to care about Jews, influencers like Jill will simply pretend this never happened.

About the Author
Writer, editor and content creator Julie Gray lives in Northern Israel with her life partner, Gidon Lev. Let's Make Things Better, co-authored by Gidon and Julie will be available in Fall 2024 (Hachette/Pan MacMillan).
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