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  • Anna Dugdale

Is Social Media Activism Helpful or Just Performative?

By Anna Dugdale

In the past year, we’ve seen an increase in social media activism. This is partly due to the fact that we’ve all been stuck inside for a year and partly due to the increase in using social media to show the world injustices. Without phones and social media, the injustice of the lawless killing of George Floyd wouldn’t have been captured, the Black Lives Matter movement wouldn’t have grown over the summer and it is entirely possible that Derek Chauvin wouldn’t have been convicted.

Within the recent weeks, light has been brought to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Plenty of people have taken to their Instagram stories and Twitter profiles to share their opinions and ways you can help. However, this does beg a slight problem.

A lot of the time the infographics that are shared on social media, particularly Instagram, can contain false information and focus on being aesthetically pleasing rather than fulfilling the purpose of bringing awareness to the subject. Whilst sharing a post to your story does spread awareness, it may not be helpful if it contains little-to-no helpful or true information. The main criticism that many hold towards the aesthetic Instagram posts on such serious topics is that it comes across as performative.

During the Black Lives Matter movement, people took to Instagram to share a black square with the purpose of showing support to the movement. This received a lot of criticism as many believed just doing that was not enough, it added no value and was not a revolutionary part of the movement. There was plenty of other ways to show support: posting helpful infographics, donating money, listening to people of colour who are effected. It was the definition of performative activism, beyond surface level. The flood of posts drowned out the critical information being used by organisers.

However, in the case of Palestine, sharing information on Instagram is one of the main ways Palestinians have said you can help. As long as the information is correct, not spreading hate speech, it is beyond helpful. Many believe that the reason a media building in Palestine was bombed was because of the attention that the situation had gained. This is an occasion where paying attention to the people who are directly effected by the situation is the best thing you can do. Whilst there is not a lot you can do due to the scale of the situation, if Palestinians think that bringing media attention to their plight is the best thing you can do currently, then that is what you must do.

Spotting performative activism or allyship is relatively easy to spot on social media. It is usually an incredibly simple post and will fit the aesthetic of the posters feed. It normally takes the tone of outrage which is not useful and shows your privilege that you couldn’t ever experience something like that yourself.

All the public allyship can definitely help spur positive change and some small form of justice can be served, it is not enough to make complete change. Some helpful things you can do are:

1. Use your wallet

Whether we like it or not, money is one of the biggest ways to show where your loyalties lie. This can be done in more than one way. The most obvious is donating to causes, whether it is relief funds in the case of Palestine or bail funds in the case of Black Lives Matter or climate change relief funds. Every little helps. Another way you can use your wallet is not support or purchase from companies who support the thing you are protesting against. It could be that they have a sketchy past and donate to organisations that are against everything you stand for, either way it is easy enough to find alternatives to such big brands with such questionable ethics.

2. Educate yourself properly

Don’t rely on Instagram graphics and Twitter to educate yourself on such complex topics with such deep rooted history. Do your research properly, use the internet, books or Youtube. These will feature more extensive and detailed information, much more than you could get off an Instagram story or swipe post. Not only will this allow you to educate yourself, it will enable you to educate others.

3. Educate others

Following on from my previous point, once you are educated yourself you can educate others easier. Education is so important, especially on topics which are so complex. Education is not a luxury that everyone can afford either, so if you can, respectfully, educate people the way you have been, whether that is sharing sources with them or telling them yourself, that can only be a good thing.

I believe that social media activism does come from a good place but many people need to realise that it is only surface level activism. It is only the beginning of educating yourself and if you don’t bother to educate yourself fully on the topic, it is performative.

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