International Policy Digest

Emerging Voices /23 Jun 2020
06.23.20

The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Activism

Social media activism is a new, influential source of information that continues to play an important role in this generation’s fight for political and societal change. However, social media, like any news source, has its downsides and limitations. Throughout my time spent on social media, I have witnessed false, triggering, unnecessary, and romanticized information and pictures being spread. Before posting on social media, you must ask yourself three things. Is it true? Is it necessary to get my point across? Why am I posting this?

Is it true? More often than not, social media news has some truth in it. However, in many cases, social media posts may have elements of misinformation that must be caught. In 2019, there was a large social media uprising against the Amazon wildfires and deforestation. However, the image that millions were reacting to and reposting was, in reality, from years ago. While the burning of the Amazon is important and should be addressed, letting false images become the focus of the movement hurts its efforts. It may not be clear why spreading a particular false image impacts our collective political understanding. By reposting something mindlessly, you are cheating yourself of the knowledge that could be gained from additional research. If you took the time to look into the Amazon wildfires, you would discover that this problem is not something new. Even though the wildfires worsened between 2018 and 2019, the numbers of fires in 2019 were similar to the number of fires from years earlier. By doing that additional research, you will be able to realize the depth and gravity of the problem and will be better equipped to help in the future.

Is it necessary to get my point across? This question is the most difficult to ask yourself because you need to do more than question your ideology – you must speculate on the reactions of others around you. Take St. Clair Correctional Facility as an example: it is known as one of the country’s most brutal prisons and is located in Alabama, a state known for its high prison mortality rate. More than 2,000 images depicting the gruesome reality of the prison were leaked and later picked up by more mainstream media sources such as The New York Times and Splinter. These news sources published many of the images without the prisoners’ consent in an attempt to inform the public about the realities of life behind bars. In some cases, these images might expose new information about the realities of our prison system and would both educate the public and push them to speak out.

However, by posting these images of violence, these news sources risk furthering the stereotypes of prisoners as well as distressing viewers who see the images. There is no clear answer as to whether or not these images should have been released. However, the clear wrongdoing in this story is that these dehumanizing images were published without the prisoners’ consent. Consent and respect for anonymity is key when posting content on social media. This issue has been highlighted recently as protests have broken out all over the country in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. While you might be inclined to post inspirational videos and pictures of the protests, be aware of the dangers that many protesters might face if their identity is exposed. When posting protest content, attempt to keep the identities of those protesting hidden whenever possible. Be mindful when posting revealing or potentially triggering content to social media and ask yourself whether you can still make your point without using risky content.

Why am I posting this? Oftentimes, people feel guilted into posting something on social media because “everyone else is doing it.” This bandwagon mentality isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It pushes others to feel the need to raise awareness and to inform themselves further about the issue in question. However, before posting something, you should ask yourself whether the post is simply a way for you to lessen your personal guilt, or whether your motivation for posting is rooted in your genuine humanity and concern for others. In the days following the murder of George Floyd, I watched as my Instagram feed was filled with images of black screens. This act of intended solidarity prompted many to question the motivation of those who chose to post it.

Showing your support for Black Lives Matter is wonderful, but if you chose to post simply to prove to others that you “aren’t racist,” remember that your personal fight against racism shouldn’t end after posting a black screen. Posting because you feel guilty should not be discouraged. However, by questioning the motivation and purpose in your activism, you can hold yourself accountable for your personal privilege and the role that you have in the fight for change. While posts come and go, the compassion you feel for others and your own fight for justice and equality should never end.

If the first time you have heard of a problem in our world is on social media, that is great. However, be aware that problems exist before and continue on after social media sheds light on them. Activism and compassion are not trends. As difficult as it can be to determine what to post to raise awareness for injustice, it must be understood that any additional step you are taking to educate yourself or to share accurate information is a good thing. In no way am I discouraging you from posting on social media. I am simply calling upon you to deepen your understanding of the systemic problems around you before informing others. Use the opportunity to post something as a chance to educate yourself further on the issue. The problem isn’t fixed the moment you post about it and social media isn’t there to help you feel less guilty for the wrongdoings of your country or community. The fight continues even when you turn your phone off.