If anyone knows how to go from making catchy videos in your living room one day to transforming into a viral sensation the next, it’s 19-year old Keara Wilson, 14-year old Jalaiah Harmon, and the Nae Nae twins. These Black creators are responsible for creating the immensely popular “Savage,” “Renegade,” and “Savage Remix” dances, respectively. So, why are the dances household names, but not the creators?
Since 2020, influencers like Wilson, Harmon, and the twins have garnered millions of views and shares for their culture-shifting moves. But, far too often, Black creators get the short end of the stick. They’re not acknowledged for their work and, as a result, lose out on potentially life-changing opportunities. And there’s data to back it up. A popular Instagram page titled the Influencer Pay Gap, alongside the Influencer League, collected wage data from influencers and content creators of all races to highlight the disparities; it found that white influencers make 29 percent more than their BIPOC counterparts.
Black Instagram and TikTok users have been vocal over the last few years about their dissatisfaction with both platforms’ lack of action in this vein. This July marks exactly a year since Black creators held a strike in response to the appropriation, lack of attribution, and wage gaps between creators of color and white creators that are rampant across these very platforms. After the strike, many users—myself included—noticed that social feeds were dry; the Black creators’ absence could be felt.
Finally, though, it seems that Instagram has heard Black creators loud and clear. This past month, three Black data analysts at Instagram, Alexis Michelle Adeji, Cameron Boyd, and Alexandra Zaoui, announced their recently designed feature called Enhanced Tags, which allows users to credit all contributors who had a hand in a project or creation. Made with Black creators in mind, the new tags let users properly identify collaborators for potential future opportunities, increasing access and visibility.
“People can easily credit their creative collaborator by including their self-identified profile category (e.g., make-up artist, choreographer, creative director, photographer, etc.) on their tag when tagged in a post,” Monique McKenzie, lead of the Beauty, Culture, and Lifestyle Communications team at Instagram, told Jezebel via email.
Or, at least that’s the hope.
In their research, Boyd, Adeji, and Zaoui discovered that more than 1.6 million people tag at least one brand on average each week, and that creators were (mostly) tagging creative collaborators in their captions and photos. But any casual user of the platform knows that didn’t easily translate to visibility. Before this tag, creative content—music, photography, poetry, skits, dances, and more—could be shared and re-shared without proper attribution. Users with bigger followings than the initial poster could repeat trends and subsequently land major deals or contracts, instead of the originator.
Any casual user of the platform can also tell you that it’s hard to keep track of who originated the skit, song, dance, art piece, or photo after it’s been repurposed, flipped, cropped, filtered, and changed millions of times over. Attribution is a key problem on nearly all social media sites, and the risk is greater for young Black creators who make up the majority of visual content on Instagram (and elsewhere).
Influencers like Ciara Johnson , Catherine Ochun, and Tyla Gilmore believe it’s crucial to be credited for their work, and the Enhanced tags could lead to a surplus of opportunities, connections, and even paid collaborations if their work reaches the right people.
“I think this feature is amazing and long-awaited, because I’ve worked on plenty of projects where Black creatives were not given the proper credit for their work,” said Gilmore. “The best way to connect, expand your portfolio, and be recognized for your talents is by sharing on social media. Now that Instagram is allowing these creatives to be properly credited it will lead to so many other opportunities.”
To underscore the significance of this system, consider that a whopping 43 percent of the more than one billion users on Instagram are Black. It shouldn’t have taken so long for them to be recognized and compensated for their sizable contributions. An updated tag feature is potentially life-changing. “This is a game-changer,” Ochun told Jezebel via email.
While Instagram’s efforts to cut down on appropriation and increase visibility seem to be the main game-changing factor of enhanced tags, a few key questions cropped up in my mind and among many of the influencers Jezebel spoke to: What happens after the post is shared over a million times? Does that mean that each person that shares is expected to tag the entire team of contributors every time?
The founders of the tag say that they hope the tags help create a culture of meritocracy and crediting; Boyd told Jezebel that they “can’t make users do anything” but that they can “make it so easy to use this product and credit someone, so we’re creating social pressure.” The reliance on “ease” to get people to use a feature seems a bit too much like wishful thinking. If Instagram is only announcing this tag and not doing much to enforce its use, then the “opportunities and economic empowerment” it’s touting for Black creators are merely a Band-Aid over a bullet hole of a problem.
It seems the experts agree that claiming these tags will lead to monetization is a big, premature promise. Creator and founder of Black Girl Digital LaToya Shambo emphasized this to Jezebel in a phone interview. As someone whose sole mission is to bridge wage gaps and help influencers advocate for higher pay, she knows what the steps to financial success would look like, and tags alone don’t inherently lead to profit for Black creators and influencers. “Instagram would have to partner with brands that use their ads to do a profit share back to the original Black content creator,” Shambo explained.
Model and influencer James Henry also raised very important questions about how brands will use the tagging feature, how the tags will create fair and equitable financial opportunities, or even how they’ll hold users accountable.
“If someone makes a trend on TikTok and then a white person does the same trend on Instagram, is Instagram going to hold the person accountable or flag them and give credit where credit is due?” he asked Jezebel in a phone interview, making the astute observation that the attribution problems on Instagram do not exist in a vacuum.
Henry went on to say that the gateway to monetization is through brand partnership and transparency. Recognition itself is just one piece of the intricate representation puzzle and, like Henry, many influencers told me that it can seem like a small drop in the bucket, because their contribution to the culture is so much larger.
Ochun is all too aware of how stolen intellectual property and appropriation of Black creativity are a huge problem with a solution no one has seemed to get quite right yet. “Black culture is the hidden origin of so many trends, beliefs, and customs worldwide. We have already had our traditions and intelligence hidden and rewritten for us for so many centuries,” she told Jezebel.
From James Brown to Michael Jackson to Sam Cooke, the fight to reclaim our brilliance is centuries old. Instagram is merely a microcosm of macro representation and visibility issues. Influencer Monica Awe-Etuk spoke to Jezebel on this very issue, emphasizing that she believes speaking up and holding people accountable is an integral component to keeping history from repeating itself. For her, charging beyond market rate (i.e. more than what her white counterparts are offered) and chasing down users that steal or re-package her work without credit is how she stays sane. However, that’s surely not a sustainable system for every single creator impacted.
Instagram told Jezebel that the onus is on the Instagram community to take charge and be in command of giving credit where credit is due, but that leaves no official advocate for the Black influencers. So, if everybody is pointing fingers, then who is taking responsibility for the problem? While Instagram has admitted that its tags are “just the first step towards a larger vision,” we have to wonder when can we expect further action—and what that further action will look like. To put an end to the influencer wage gap and lack of crediting Black creators, there needs to be a collective effort of everyone: users, brands, and the platforms themselves. One can only hope that for Black creators who have been waiting decades, this “larger vision” will arrive swiftly.
In the meantime, Black creators will continue to make viral content that is reshared and repackaged millions of times every day. And history has proven people will continue to duplicate it until a stand is taken.
Ochun put it most succinctly: “Black creators want to see action where for centuries there has been no action,” she said. “It’s time for a new normal where Black brilliance and creativity is just as valued and seen.”