Instagram Influencers Are Using Black Lives Matter for Self-Promotion, and Being Caught in the Act

Social media "influencers" exploiting Black Lives Matter protests for self-promotion are being caught in the act, and exposed online.

But the man behind one brand responsible for sharing such content—Influencers In The Wild (IITW)—says the focus of his accounts may shift because some people in his videos are being subjected to threats and abuse for their misguided behavior.

The popular pages, which have amassed millions of followers, post short clips of online influencers—a title given to those who use online followings to help sell products—in public, exposing the lengths some go to obtain content for their feeds.

But several of the most recent viral uploads have shown white creators who appeared to be taking advantage of the nationwide anti-racism protests—sparked by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25—as a photo opportunity.

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Its creator, George Resch, who uses the name "Tank Sinatra" online, understands why many of his followers have been left angry or frustrated by the footage.

"Some people have co-opted the BLM movement in order to get content and I think the problem with that, the thing that enraged people so much, is that it's the single most egregious act of cultural appropriation you could possibly imagine," he said.

"Going to a march that was literally organized so that black people could assert their right to matter, to live, and re-purposing your presence there for Instagram content which, as we know, is one of the most shallow things we can do," Resch continued.

One of the first IITW videos to go mega-viral was uploaded in early June, showing a man taking a photo of a woman in front of a smashed-up T-Mobile store. Captioned "I knew this would happen eventually," it has more than 47,000 shares on Twitter alone.

Aided by a submission platform that lets viewers send in clips, it was soon followed by a wave of clips showing out-of-place creators: a woman pretending to board up a shop, a woman in a chair posing for a camera in the street, a woman with a "BLM" sign who appeared to take a photograph with a legitimate protester before walking away.

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Stolen valor (Submitted by @frankbrand)

A post shared by Tank Sinatra (@influencersinthewild) on

Many commenters under the posts say the influencers are demonstrating white privilege in action, while some appeal to other users for links to their accounts.

But despite the moral issues at play, Resch said in his statement the IITW brand was not started with the "intent to shame these people." He expressed concerns that the personal information of some people in his videos had been published online.

"My intention was to expose the behavior, not the individual," the IITW Twitter account wrote Tuesday to its 174,000 followers. The video was also posted to Instagram, where the brand boasts more than three million followers at the time of writing.

As reported by the New Statesman this week, some of the influencers in the clips have been "outed," and not all were famous. While most posts are met with valid criticism, some users had their locations, jobs or addresses revealed to the world.

While acknowledging there are issues with the vapid behavior, Resch said that leaking information is a step too far for his brand, which is only about six months old.

"I did see people looking for their Instagram handles or where they worked. In one case I saw somebody post someone's full name, number and address," he said.

"I deleted it and... he goes, 'I found all this information, it only took me a few hours.' Bro, go read a book on anger management for three hours instead of rage searching for someone's personal information to dox them and possibly put them in real physical danger. That is not why I started this page. I am not in the life-ruining business."

Kris Schatzel, an Instagrammer who was seen posing at a Black Lives Matter protest in Los Angeles, has received constant abuse since being featured on the IITW pages, including a message saying she should be "left to die in the gutter."

She has defended her BLM picture, but said in one post: "I am scared. I took a picture in a non violent protest. Hundreds of people are threatening to kill me. Please stop."

Resch concluded in his video statement: "Some of you may feel, well these people are doing it to themselves, they are putting themselves out there.

"But here's the point: My purpose was to expose behavior, not the individual. And some of you took it upon yourselves to find out who the individuals were and attack them with everything you had. I just wanted to say that's not what this page is for, that's not what I am about. If I need to shift the purpose of the page that's what I am going to do."

Black Lives Matter sign
A Caucasian protester holds a handmade sign that reads, "Black Lives Matter" in a similar way to another sign with the Statue Of Liberty in Times Square. Ira L. Black/Corbis
Instagram Influencers Are Using Black Lives Matter for Self-Promotion, and Being Caught in the Act | Tech & Science