Influencer culture can be a bit much, to say the least, and understanding it can be a struggle. But if you saw that now-viral tweet about Instagram baddies flocking to Chernobyl to capitalize on its new hype thanks to the HBO show—see it below—know that it’s not all what it seems. The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz clarified several things about both the tweet and the nature of taking photos at sites of tragedies in an illuminating new piece.
Three out of the four of the “influencers” in the above tweet couldn’t even be classified as influencers, as they have relatively small followings. Lorenz points out that only the woman in the first photo, Julia Baessler, has a sizable following, and, through both her post and the article itself, shared a thoughtful response that clarified her reasons for being there. The geiger counter guy’s photo has been circling the web since 2010, and the woman standing by the bus is a student born in the Ukraine who, in her excised caption, reflects on the impact the weight of Chernobyl has had on her.
As for the last one, yeah, that’s a thirst trap, even if she had only 1,500 followers at the time The Atlantic piece was published. And it’s photos like hers that Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin spoke out about on Twitter. “It’s wonderful that #ChernobylHBO has inspired a wave of tourism to the Zone of Exclusion,” he wrote. “But yes, I’ve seen the photos going around. If you visit, please remember that a terrible tragedy occurred there. Comport yourselves with respect for all who suffered and sacrificed.”
Another reason the viral tweet is misleading is because, while tourism has spiked recently due to the show, there’s no evidence that more influencers, specifically, are making a trip there. In her Atlantic article, Lorenz points to the fact that the geotag—something most influencers would definitely use if they were traveling to Pripyat—doesn’t show an uptick in that demographic.
She also goes on to analyze how incidents like this reflect our changing relationship with technology. As technologist Nicole He tweeted, the current Instagram style isn’t taking pictures of your surroundings, but rather of you in them. Lorenz elaborated on Twitter: “But most ppl taking ‘posed’ pics at tragic places are just trying to capture their memory of a place within the current norms/style of the platform” and aren’t particularly trying to be disrespectful.
As always, the context is key.