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Social Media and the Performance of Online Activism

social media apps on phone screen

Culture Editor Ally Azyan on the misguided nature of performative online activism.

Did Black Lives Matter conveniently end for you when the charge against Derek Chauvin was raised to second-degree murder? Did you show your solidarity by posting a black box on Instagram, deleting it later because it “ruined” your feed? I personally made fun of those who did the latter, because how’s a black box going to solve racial discrimination against Black people?

In the age of social media, we are compelled and pressured to show our support for causes and issues happening around the world. If we don’t, we are pegged as uncaring and heartless by many of our peers. However, I believe this causes a problem. While I think it is very important that we spread information about global affairs, blind sharing of statistics and infographics on Instagram and Twitter is rampant. Humans create these things. Humans are vulnerable to human error which, inevitably, means some of the posts appearing in your “stories” can be inaccurate.

Insincerity leads to performative actions. You’re reposting these things in an effort to care and spread the word, but this is counterproductive. I would be lying if I said that everything I shared on my Instagram story was fact-checked and posted with so much care. When I began my internship in the summer, I couldn’t find the time to constantly read through infographics before sharing them on my story. I kept sharing things that I thought were accurate and helpful. Thankfully, I had my wake-up call when I reposted an infographic about the presence of Islamophobia in France on my Instagram story. I was contacted by a native French speaker who told me that the post was inaccurate due to mistranslations. It was then I realised that I had fallen into the rabbit hole of performative activism, and that trying to show my “woke-ness” might not be the best solution.

The moral of the story is that it’s better to quietly educate yourself on sensitive matters rather than becoming a repost maniac. I’m not trying to say you should stop posting helpful information, but you should always prioritise fact-checking and sincerity before sharing. This opens up to a bigger problem of how we all want to be perceived by people on social media. Apps like Instagram allow us to create the very best versions of ourselves, meaning that we are able to hide our flaws. Naturally, we want to be seen as beautiful, intelligent advocates for human rights, but that can take a turn to something worse. An example would be influencers using a Black Lives Matter protest as an impromptu photoshoot set – I don’t think I need to describe how incredibly insensitive and stupid that was. What has humanity come to if this is how we show that we care?

Nonetheless, social media remains to be the most ‘efficient’ method of activism as it does reach a wider audience – but we should take this a step further. Sign petitions, donate to organisations, educate yourself with accurate resources, and listen to the voices of the minority; provide further platforms from which they can be heard. Activism is not a competition of who the better human is; it’s about raising awareness and helping as much as you can.

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