Fiona O’Reilly, Grade 11, Staff Writer
Instagram stories nowadays are filled with colorful infographics about trending social justice issues. Social media has paved a way for young people to get involved in politics and spread awareness about important issues. But while social media platforms have undoubtedly helped spread the word about important movements, the rise of activism on social media has its downfalls: reposting Instagram graphics has become a method of false activism. People repost aesthetic posts about racism to show “support” for a cause, while really trivializing the movement that they claim to endorse.
Nothing epitomizes the idea of performative activism more than the BlackoutTuesday movement in which people posted black squares to Instagram with the hashtag ‘BlackLivesMatter’ to spread awareness. Ultimately, this trend was more harmful than helpful. 14.6 million black squares flooded the feed of this hashtag, overshadowing useful information about protests and petitions. In reality, BlackoutTuesday was a social trend used by many to prove their virtue to their Instagram followers.
The problem with social media activism is that people feel like they are contributing something beneficial by only reposting or using a hashtag. It allows people to have an easy way to feel good about themselves without contributing something of real substance, like donations or writing letters to representatives. In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, it was found that people who engaged in public activism donated less than people who privately showed support, whereas those who engaged in private support were 15 percent more likely to donate.
When a movement is trending, companies will hop on the bandwagon to sell more products. So it follows that many companies would issue statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement without any tangible activism behind them. When the National Football League released a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, many people on social media called them out for being insincere. Colin Kaepernick still has not been signed by any NFL team since 2016, when he peacefully protested police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem. Rather than issuing unhelpful statements condemning racism, companies should take real action like changing their unjust policies.
The unfortunate side-effect of social media activism is the commercialization and perversion of social justice movements. Decorative Instagram posts and official statements simply serve to attract validation, rather than furthering an important cause.