Performative Activism Kills Social Justice

In the era of social media, it has become increasingly common for users to utilize their platforms in offering support for various movements and causes. After the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, many people turned to social media to spread awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement, and it seems that this has become a pattern in recent years. Following tragic events or situations, social media platforms become flooded with resources and messages in reaction to injustice or hardship. While the vast majority of users who shed light on important issues are well-intentioned and eager to make a change, some users take advantage of these issues to promote their own platforms under a facade of allyship which is hugely ingenuine.

Performative activism is a superficial way of demanding or making change. New York Times writer Nikita Stewart’s article, “Black Activists Wonder: Is Protesting Just Trendy for White People?”  is about a new wave of protests that consisted of predominantly white people during the Black Lives Matter marches in 2020. She expressed her reservations regarding their involvement, fearful that it would only be temporary. Her piece communicates a common theme of frustration with the fact that “allyship,” especially that of white people, has only occurred in response to recent social media trends. The immediacy of social media makes it easy to engage with, but this version of activism does not go far enough. 

BlackoutTuesday Instagram Posts Don't Help #BlackLivesMatter (Column) -  Variety
A recent trend on Instagram, Blackout Tuesday, triggered public criticism for its ineffectiveness (Credit: VELISHCHUK YEVHEN/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Often, the core motivations for activism are misconstrued on social media. The “Challenge Accepted” trend resulted in women across the globe posting black and white pictures of themselves to show the idea that women stick together. Not only was the origin of this online trend eliminated from the posts, but it also merely scratched the surface of the original feminist issues which started the trend. It has become clear that some users promoting a movement on social media do not continue that support in their daily lives or through their actions. Videos have circulated over the internet of protesters posing for pictures and holding up signs, then promptly leaving and going home. Using protests as photo-ops and posting just in order to seem “woke” actually devalues the important social movement. On the other hand, some activists protest, donate, or sign petitions to show support, and remain silent on social media. This is where social media activism becomes complicated.

Do social media activism and signing petitions work? - The Daily Universe
(Credit: BEN DANIEL)

While the motive behind opening these activism accounts is shallow, there is a disagreement about the effects left by them. Many believe that any activism is good as long as it still spreads awareness, regardless of a person’s education on the issue. The general opinion, however, is that activism is not a trend to capitalize on. Stop treating serious issues like #OOTD. It’s degrading, demeaning, and trivializing. True activism is when a person or a collective contributes to resolving an issue. Are all of you still writing to your congresspeople about changing our gun control laws like you said you were going to after Parkland? Or is it going to take another Parkland for you to actually do it?




Althea Ocomen

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