Is social media really an effective form of activism?

Charlotte Airey takes to task Instagram infographic activism

Charlotte Airey
21st March 2021
Image edited by Joe Molander
Social media activism has become more and more popular over the past year. It is a brilliant way to hold authority and individuals to account for the whole world to see. In my opinion, this should be encouraged, as issues should be brought to light across the political spectrum. However, a problem does exist on a smaller level. Individuals online can spread misinformation in the name of making themselves look a certain way.

I think these individuals, and you all know who I'm talking about, seem to think social media activism counts as political participation. Posting a cutesy infographic on your story that is potentially misinformed or factually incorrect, though, doesn’t really count. Bashing people who don’t post the same infographic certainly isn’t helpful. People are seriously affected by these social issues, and posting information in a cute font with a pink background can trivialise their experience and oppression.

We all know facts can get easily misconstrued on social media. A perfect example of this is the “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber” disaster. Although the government’s campaign wasn’t exactly tasteful, many other professions were included in that campaign, which was made some while ago. Nonetheless, about every single person I follow on Instagram posted on their story about the government’s lack of care for the arts during the pandemic. Why? They didn’t do any research and didn’t question the source.

Furthermore, a lot of social media activism isn’t what it seems. It would be interesting to ask people who consistently post Instagram stories what else they have done to support the issue they apparently care about. Are they writing emails? Signing petitions? Attending protests (within restrictions)? Supporting businesses owned by the people affected by social issues?

Some people are doing this. Others aren’t able to for perfectly legitimate reasons. The majority, however, are simply not willing to go the next step, and do something that actually aids or impacts.

The conformity is infuriating. I can think of so many people who posted the black square on their Instagram during summer, when they continued to make racist jokes. I know people who posted about the Sarah Everard tragedy and have made jokes and comments about related issues before. People like these prove that there is a lack of sincerity across Instagram activism.

As I aforementioned, I fully appreciate that social media is a good way to spread ideas, thoughts and issues. It is also useful for making people think about their lives and the issues that surround them, and for generating solidarity with the oppressed. That being said, I do think social media activism is mainly performative. It generates this strange culture of pressure to conform to posting Instagram stories. Shockingly, however, it is possible for someone to do their bit to combat issues without posting about it for self-gratification.

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AUTHOR: Charlotte Airey
Politics Student @ NCL Uni

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