11 Sep 2021

Lucy Blakiston: Shit You Should Care About an Instagram hit

From Saturday Morning, 11:05 am on 11 September 2021

An Instagram account set up by three Blenheim teenagers in 2018 has become a huge hit.

Shit You Should Care About (aka SYSCA) now provides information, articles and podcasts to over 3.3 million Instagram followers.

Lucy Blakiston, Olivia Mercer and Ruby Edwards of SYSCA

Photo: SYSCA

SYSCA co-founder Lucy Blakiston tells Kim Hill she first had the idea for an online news platform better suited to young people while she and childhood friends Olivia Mercer and Ruby Edwards were all studying Media and International Relations at Victoria University.

"I knew I had a pretty good grasp on the world but I thought what is the barrier between me really understanding the world outside of New Zealand? It was a mixture of the jargon and the length of the articles that we were being fed and also the design. Black-and-white is not that gripping for young people who are used to being fed these beautiful products."

Shit You Should Care About offers an entry point to complex information and a starting point from which people can learn more, Lucy says.

"We're like that younger cousin that sits at the table and explains in really normal words these big concepts. And we are just a starting point… there's absolutely no way that something on Instagram can be the start and end of your education but we would rather give people some starting points to go and look deeper than let it all just feel way too 'hard basket' to even start being interested."

Screenshot of Shit You Should Care About Instagram account

Screenshot of Shit You Should Care About Instagram account Photo: Provided

Back in 2018, it didn't feel groundbreaking to put news information on Instagram at a time when the social media platform was full of influencers, but Lucy now realises it was quite a unique approach.

"We moved [journalism] over to real short-form and now lots of people do it."

Last year, when New Zealand's first Covid-19 lockdown put a stop to Lucy and Ruby's plan to move to London, was when Shit You Should Care About really took off, Lucy says.

On their platform, she and Ruby tried to simultaneously make sense of Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter phenomenon, the US election and the New Zealand election.

"People were locked indoors craving information but not knowing how to work for it. If we could keep it, sum it up for them and platform the right people and the right info, we did."

When SYSCA gained 1 million followers in one month, Lucy took a step back to think about what they wanted to do and not do with their "now-huge audience".

What they're now succeeding in doing, she says, is helping young people feel like it's okay to care about a lot of things you're still learning about and not be scared to ask dumb questions.

Lucy tells Kim Hill it's taken three years to get her own daily news consumption process down - which takes place between 6am and 9am each day.

After first taking a "pulse check" of the news landscape from her direct messages, Lucy then reads as much news information as she can - from around 40 online media sources and a large number of newsletters.

She is well aware that SYSCA is often reflecting to their audience the worldview they already have, and says it's trying to figure out ways to get information beyond their own echo chamber.

"I know Shit You Should Care About is preaching so much to the choir and I really want to figure out how to break out of that. If anyone has tips please feel free to message me."

Fans of SYSCA will know Lucy has been a big fan (aka 'stan') of British pop star Harry Styles since she was 15.

His former band One Direction is due some credit for the formation of SYSCA, Lucy says, as she first learnt editing skills, web design and community building working on One Direction fan sites.

"Harry Styles is a wonderful human ... he also stands for some really cool things … he embodies a lot of really nice things and it's just nice to have a celebrity that you sort of think 'if I met you I reckon we'd have a good chat'."

Lucy is also a fan of the UK reality TV show Love Island and explores its lessons - which include understanding different communication styles and how to spot gaslighting - on the NEON NZ pop culture podcast Culture Vulture.

The new video series Extremely Online, created by Olivia Mercer from SYSCA, breaks down the "mystifying" world of the internet, Lucy says, including deepfakes, the singularity, and why AI has a racism problem.

You can watch all episodes of Extremely Online here.