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Influencers are the New Public Intellectuals

With Hannah Ferguson, Mary Mcgillivray and Sisonke Msimang, Moderated by Bri Lee

10 March 2024

In theatre and livestreamed

These days on Instagram you’re just as likely to get a lesson in medieval architecture as you are a teeth-whitening strip. But what does it mean for education and public discourse to be wrapped up with online personas and monetisation?

Co-curated by Bri Lee

The public intellectual has been reborn as the public influencer.

Nicholas Carr 

Knowledge and culture in the online marketplace

For a long time, the word 'influencer' conjured stereotypes of activewear and dubious hot takes. But it's 2024 and social media has well-and-truly revolutionised the public square. Today, the word influencer can refer to an activist or academic who shares short videos on TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram to explain complex concepts on niche subjects for a global audience. From Substack to Twitter threads, podcasting to Patreon, there are many opportunities to monetise knowledge-sharing. What does it mean for women to be able to build audiences free from traditional gatekeepers? Or are the gatekeepers now just the shady algorithms of BigTech bros? Come along for a heated and hilarious debate with five very public, very intellectual influencers.

Presented by Sydney Opera House


Hannah Ferguson (she/her)

Hannah Ferguson is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of independent news commentary platform, Cheek Media Co., and the co-host of news and culture podcast, Big Small Talk. In 2023, Hannah released her debut book, Bite Back. Hannah holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and a Master of Writing, Editing and Publishing from The University of Queensland. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Harper's Bazaar, InStyle, the Sydney Morning Herald, Crikey, and more.

Mary McGillivray (she/her)

Mary McGillivray is a content creator making visual culture analysis accessible for the next generation. She holds a Masters degree in History of Art and Architecture from the University of Cambridge, and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne.

Mary has worked with art galleries and cultural institutions across Australia, the UK, and Europe to bring their collections to a massive online audience of highly engaged young viewers. Her collaborations include the UK Art Fund, National Gallery London, Australian Institute for Art History, and the ABC.

Sisonke Msimang (she/her)

Sisonke Msimang is the author of two books and the columnist behind Ms Understanding, which tackles race and racism in The Guardian on a bi-weekly basis. She’s also a long-term collaborator with the Centre for Stories where she heads up storytelling and offers a bespoke training and coaching service for leaders interested in improving their storytelling skills.

Bri Lee (she/her) Moderator

Bri Lee is the multi-award-winning author of Eggshell SkullBeauty and Who Gets to Be Smart. Her journalism, essays, and short stories have been published widely, and she is the creator and editor of News & ReviewsThe Work (April 2024) is Bri's debut novel.

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