Roma Cultural Influencers: Social Media for Identity Formation




cultural identity, Roma heritage, social media presence, Instagram, YouTube


In the ‘Societies and Lifestyles’ project, 2006-2009, 10 post-communist countries analysed values of so-called fringers: small ethnic groups living on the fringes of society. One of them, the Hungarian Roma appeared to have a rich cultural heritage that had been exploited without its integration into an authentic and empowering cultural presence. (Forray & Beck, 2008). Roma heritage, representing about 10 % of Hungarian population, is not exhibited permanently, rarely appear in social media and isn’t recognised even by the socially challenged Roma community. Stakeholder meetings indicate that educational poverty is more threatening for youth than financial needs: it is cultural immersion is needed to build healthy identity. As part of the HORIZON2020 AMASS - Acting on the margins – Arts as social sculpture research project, we developed a training and mentoring program for aspiring Roma cultural influencers. We assumed that social media can be an agent to fight educational poverty and can be used as an arts-based intervention to promote the development of socially challenged youth. Influencers of the Roma community, predominantly male, focus on celebrities and scandals or raise their voice against negative prejudices. Their attitudes do not encourage majority youth to read their messages. Our young Roma girl influencers show cultural values of Roma heritage in witty, youthful voice that is convincing and popular. This paper presents their emergence and shows their unique voices. After two semesters of training in Roma culture, media skills, legal regulations, and online journalism, nineteen girls have successfully established themselves in social media. When disadvantaged minorities try to raise their voices, the response is often characterised as hostile and biased (Glucksman, 2017). We identified psychological traits needed for successful cultural media presence through pre- and post-course measurement. Our training program enhanced skills in all areas with digital competence showing the greatest improvement. The process-folios (documentation of growth during training, cf. Gardner, 1999) showed increased self-assurance and commitment to Roma roots. Those who opted out of the course were threatened by the aggressive tone of social media and / or found regular presence irreconcilable with daily duties (Kárpáti and Somogyi-Rohonczy, 2021). We analysed the social media iconography (Drainville, 2018) of the Roma on Instagram and TikTok in Hungary and on the international scene and identified the scarcity of authentic cultural content. Through cultural immersion, they appropriated ancient motives and symbols that often-assumed new meaning. Not hiding gloomy reality, their intention was to show beauty in their environment and highlight cultural achievements and personal growth against all the odds. The Hungarian Roma Cultural Influencers are not only content providers – they are role models also for their communities.