How to Influence Without Scabbing: A Confusing Guide to the SAG-AFTRA Strike

influencers SAG strike
Kevin George/Shutterstock Jasni/Shutterstock di_illustrator/Shutterstock Remix by Caterina Cox

This is our latest column covering what creators and influencers need to know about the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike developments. Read previous editions here.

For the first time in 60 years, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) are striking. The WGA and SAG Strike completely halted film and TV production, as writers and actors demanded to negotiate a better contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for better wages, parameters around AI technology, and more stable working conditions.

While the strike is ongoing, both members of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA need to follow a very strict series of rules. Members of the WGA can’t write or create new content for struck studios, while those in SAG-AFTRA are barred from doing principal work, promoting new work, or signing new contracts with the studios.  

But those in production (and the greedy execs that make millions a year off their hard work) are far from the only parts of the media ecosystem. Though internet and print outlets exist to cover the overarching narrative surrounding film and TV releases, it’s influencers that have become the engines to fuel speculation and hype.

“The streaming bubble is bursting, and it’s time actors, writers, and other crew receive fair pay and job security,” Johnny O’Dell, a reactor who runs the 116,000-subscriber YouTube channel J20, told Passionfruit over email. “The studios and their execs have been cartoonishly evil, looking more and more like the villains in their own movies than the heroes.” 

Since the last strike happened before everyone had an iPhone and sharing on social media was the norm, the rules about what is or isn’t allowed online are a little blurry. Creators wanting to show solidarity probably have a few questions, so we collected as many answers as we could, below.  

How to Influence Without Scabbing?

Anyone that crosses a picket line and works with a studio will be barred from the WGA or SAG-AFTRA and be labeled a scab. The last thing most creators that have built a career on fandom want is to be reviled by the industry they hold in such high regard. But being blacklisted and shunned is technically the only punishment for non-union members.

But for influencers struggling to figure out how to be a good ally, thankfully, SAG-AFTRA has realized the potential problem and developed a series of rules for what influencers can promote. Neither union has asked viewers or creators to stop watching, promoting, or going to movie theaters. It’s important to continue showing that there’s an appetite for film and TV, thus demonstrating the value of creative work.

Influencers can still take brand partnerships but should fill out this form to ensure it abides by the current rules. But, the union says supportive influencers shouldn’t promote screenings, take paid promotional jobs, accept any new work from studios, or promote any struck work on social media. According to The Wrap, SAG-AFTRA members are not allowed to do anything that can be considered “publicity” for new projects, which promoting on social media counts as. 

These rules are nice, but they only cover a small percentage of influencers’ questions. Twitter user Estar Guars Tia emailed SAG-AFTRA about cosplaying at a convention, to which they responded that you shouldn’t do it if it would promote struck productions, aka films and TV series being striked against currently.

They also encouraged cosplayers not to depict any characters created by studios currently being struck against — including Warner Bros Discovery, Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Apple, and Paramount — even if they are old characters from previous productions before the strike.

Passionfruit reached out to SAG-AFTRA to clarify some of their rules, and we did not receive a response by publication. 

What About Movie and TV Reaction Channels?

Outside of reviews and commentary, there’s also an entire genre of YouTube dedicated to reacting to trailers, episodes, and movies in real time. React channels feel like they exist in a gray zone of the strike, neither technically giving paid promotion or detailed criticism, but rather in-the-moment responses.

On O’Dell’s J20 channel, he collects the reactions of other reaction channels, pulling tens of thousands of views a video. He has no plans of joining the WGA or SAG-AFTRA and says that if he stopped making his videos on television and movie reactions, “that would mean stopping my channel.” 

“I’ve seen some influencers vow not to cover popular shows and films in solidarity with SAG, but I don’t see how that moves the needle for anyone, especially given how much studios generally push back against react content,” O’Dell said. 

According to Greg Alba of the Reel Rejects YouTube Channel, SAG-AFTRA told him in an email that reaction videos of Marvel’s show “Secret Invasion” would not be considered “struck work” and would be allowed to post without crossing the picket line. 

“A Reaction/review is not considered publicity,” the email read.  

But other reactors plan to reshape their content after the strike entirely. David Webb, along with his wife Arrielle Edwards (these are their stage names), watch and react to the latest trailers and television shows on their 50,000-subscriber YouTube channel Nerd Nightly. In a video posted to his channel on Sunday, the pair said they would not do any trailer reactions or movie reviews for new releases. Webb has been a member of SAG-AFTRA since 2011 and will abide by the union’s influencer rules. 

“I believe too strongly in what we are standing up for to go against the Union’s stated wishes on this,” Webb said over email. “Whatever they ask of me, I will make work because there simply is no other option. We have to win, or there will be no room for anyone in the industry except the nepo-babies.”

Who Exactly Qualifies as an Influencer Under SAG-AFTRA?

At the core of the confusion comes one simple question: what exactly is an influencer, according to SAG-AFTRA? In today’s fast-paced social media landscape, where any thought can be foisted into a short-form video, the line between passive observer and influential personality is blurred.

Does a few-thousand-subscriber-channel refusing to post “Secret Invasion” spoilers have the same weight to the strike as a 10-million-follower-TikToker walking the “Haunted Mansion” red carpet? (The latter had to delete their video in just a few hours because of internet shame and accusations of being the first influencer scab).

“What isn’t clear, I think, is ‘who are the influencers?’” Webb said. “And that is where people are struggling. Social media has made those lines so blurry, and a lot of people like us and critics who don’t write for traditional media are having to decide whether that label applies to us or not without a clear framework.”

As the strike inevitably marches on, union organizers must clarify what they want to see out of fans or anyone outside the union. If the strike continues any longer, it’s unlikely we will see new television or movies for a couple of years, and if the internet has taught us anything, people don’t like waiting.

Both unions need to keep speaking publicly so influencers and fans can work together to help the WGA and SAG-AFTRA get the contracts they so rightfully deserve. Even if that means skipping wearing a Spider-Man leotard at San Diego Comic-Con.

What are your thoughts on influencers and the SAG strike? Email [email protected] to share your experience.

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