“Performative activism” is probably a term that you have heard over the past year. Performative activism is often described as: the use of activism on social media for the sake of an increase in social status, rather than activism for the sake of change. Over the past year, there seems to have been a trend born from this type of activism. The number of times I have seen people post about a social issue while it’s a “hot topic,” then never again, is astounding. This performative/trendy “slacktivism” is incredibly prevalent on Instagram and is more problematic than helpful.
Now, before I get into this topic, I am going to try to leave this article as unpolitical as possible. This article is NOT about politics or if I agree/disagree with the politics supported in these posts. It is solely about the issues I see with performative posts in general and the problems that arise consequently. I am not saying that educating people about these things via social media posts is inherently wrong, I am just trying to give my two cents on how this can be harmful.
From Facebook to Snapchat, almost every social media platform is used for this type of activism. Instagram, however, seems to be the main hub of this behavior. On Instagram, users “support what they believe in” by reposting political, well-designed, trendy posts about a social issue. However, I fear these posts don’t correctly raise awareness and actually turn people off from these ideas.
My first problem with these posts is that they often are not really informing anyone. If you think about it, who are these posts meant for? What goal does someone accomplish in reposting them? In social media, people often end up in their own echo chambers of friends and family that share the same ideas as you. I have known people that unfollow anyone that differs in world/political views as them. This leads to a false digital world that you’ve created where everyone is agreeing with one another while repeating to each other the same information.
This digital world one often creates is very unrealistic compared to the real world. In the real world, someone cannot be “blocked.” Everyone has a voice in the real world and if you don’t like what they’re saying, your best bet is to get out of earshot. On social media, however, everyone has the power to silence any voice they don’t want to hear. You don’t support the same ideas I do? Blocked. You don’t like the same food as me? Blocked. You called my favorite football team awful? Blocked. These are obviously light examples but they increase in extremity with much more serious and important subjects. This simple yet powerful feature of social media allows people to exclusively exist with others like them. Many people we all follow on social media have shared thoughts and ideas. This requires us to ask the question again: Who are we trying to spread this information to? What is the reason we are posting this? Does everyone need to voice their opinions just to garner respect from their followers?
My second problem with these posts is that oftentimes they don’t say much. What I mean by this, is that they will take a complicated topic and boil it down to just a few words. This results in these posts occasionally looking nonsensical. These accounts seemingly sacrifice the words they use for a better-looking post. It seems like these Instagram accounts supporting activism care a lot less about the cause and a lot more about how much engagement there is on their page.
The fact of the matter is, if people want to get educated with what’s going on around the world, they will. They will watch the news, read articles, and research it to be well informed about what is happening around them. And much like the choice to be educated, if they want to be ignorant, they will. They won’t watch the news or read articles or your Instagram story.
There are ways in your everyday life to affect the change you want to see in the world. Signing petitions, protesting, and donating are three ways that you can help make this change. Spreading awareness is great, but make sure the information spread is helpful, not just a way for people to feel like they are making a difference.