Instagram activism isn’t performative, you’re just not putting in the work

Instagram’s previously apolitical feed is long gone, and you’ll be noticed for choosing to ignore it.

Instagram activity took a turn in June 2020 when users began sharing and posting information, protests, and graphics centered on the Black Lives Matter movement and other initiatives calling for social reforms. If you were on Instagram, you couldn’t have missed it. 

Some users preferred to share posts on their stories while new accounts began to pop up dedicated solely to creating cute, aesthetic boxes of informative text—and nearly everyone posted a black square. 

Accounts like @wetheurban, @so.informed, and @impact quickly amassed over a million followers within weeks as people scrambled to seem “woke” and empathetic to social causes. Spending the summer online seemed to kickstart conversations around spreading awareness while spurring companies and institutions to take the initiative in implementing their own equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigenization (EDII) action plans. 

Yet it quickly became apparent people were sharing posts only for the sake of keeping up with the trend—when feeds began to transition back to ‘normal,’ people were content to remain just as indifferent as before. 

Despite this “slacktivism,” the benefits of introducing difficult and important topics on social media remain. Since the summer of 2020, people have started becoming more knowledgeable about current issues, having uncomfortable conversations, and creating change within their communities. For example, many municipal departments, including the New York City Police Department, have been receiving de-escalation and mental health crisis management training as part of  a spreading police reform. 

Palika Makam, a social media activist, told Refinery29, “Narrative work, whether [organized] in-person or in the digital space during COVID, is really important.” 

Another woman told Bustle that she had a previously “low level of genuine understanding of [systemic] oppression and historical abuses” but through informative posts, she learned to think critically about the privilege she experiences and how to start to unlearn her conditioning. 

This unlearning and critical thinking is particularly important as marginalized people have long been speaking up about the discrimination and micro-aggressions they face on a day-to-day basis only now being acknowledged and heard. 

But activism shouldn’t be limited to a four‒by‒four graphic. 

Rather, we should be learning more through these posts and then taking the initiative to understand how we can extend what we see into real life. We must go beyond just liking an image. 

You can start by attending a protest, signing a petition, talking about issues at school, work, with friends and family, and asking yourself how you can help those in your community from your privileged position.

Instagram posts can be valuable, but they shouldn’t only be a main source of information for you—they should be a personal launchpad to take further action and to create meaningful change. 

Anya is a third-year Commerce student and one of The Journal’s BIPOC Advisory Board Members.

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