Blocking out Instagram's black squares: the flaws of social media activism

Social media has provided an opportunity for activism like never before - the ability to reach millions with the click of a button and to raise awareness about important issues. People now have the opportunity to share their own experiences with mass audiences, connect with others who have had similar encounters, and actively demand change. […]

Aastha Malik
12th June 2020
Social media has provided an opportunity for activism like never before - the ability to reach millions with the click of a button and to raise awareness about important issues. People now have the opportunity to share their own experiences with mass audiences, connect with others who have had similar encounters, and actively demand change. Despite all these aspects being true, the Black Lives Matter movement is bringing the shortcomings of such activism to the forefront.

On Blackout Tuesday for example, the idea was for black squares to be shared to pause all commercial content in a movement to mourn George Floyd, and protest the brutality and racism felt by black people not only in America, but around the world. While the music industry began this movement with good intentions - to focus on the more important matters at hand - social media was flooded with black squares, along with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter.

What many failed to do is to truly understand the intention of Blackout Tuesday and simply shared this black space to join a ‘trend’ of activism. How was this darked out square challenging structures of racism? How was it informing people on what they can do to educate themselves? How was it inciting any change?

What is worse, by sharing black squares with the #blacklivesmatter hashtag focus was taken away from the more important discussions that the platform was made for. It silenced the voices of the people who are taking to social media to share valuable resources, petitions, and personal anecdotes through the hashtag. Hashtag activism was created for people around the world to find others who share the same difficult experiences and provide a platform to challenge the systems of oppression together, as seen with the #metoo movement, but Blackout Tuesday deprived people of that.

black squares with the #blacklivesmatter hashtag silenced the voices of the people who are taking to social media to share valuable resources, petitions, and personal anecdotes

Bad social media activism is the idea of posting something in the name of activism, adding no actual value to what is trying to be achieved. It is the idea that posting one 24-hour story with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter is you doing your part. It is the idea that adding a black square to your feed, with no resources or information, is helping progress the movement.

Bad social media activism is the idea of posting something in the name of activism, adding no actual value to what is trying to be achieved

Instead, share resources to educate your peers, challenge friends and family who make racial remarks in passing, educate yourself about the oppression faced by black people in your own country, sign petitions that hope to change systematic structures of racism, and make that effort to go beyond that one post on your feed. If you really want to be an ally, this is vital.

Be better, advocate better, read more and educate others - only then can you incite true, meaningful change.

Racism has been an oppressive structure in place for years and the movement to abolish it is going to take more than a post on social media. Understand that activism is not a trend. Lives being lost to racism everyday is not content for your feed. Be better, advocate better, read more and educate others - only then can you incite true, meaningful change.

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