Use social media to support action, not to perform


Social media and its accompanying abilities to post, discuss, and share is an incredible tool for organization, especially when it comes to social justice campaigns. There is great power in social media. With that power, however, comes a personal responsibility to use it for the benefit of others, not just oneself and one’s comfort.

Think of it this way: a social media account is a plot of digital land, where the owner can build whatever they please. Like real physical land, the account takes up space, and there are others who want to take up the same amount of space the user does, but cannot for a variety of reasons such as lack of internet access, smaller audience size, and shadow banning (when a user and their content is blocked from their audience in a way that is not readily apparent). In other words, the account is valuable — it is a form of cyber real estate. When one owns something that is valuable, they have an expectation to treat it with the respect it deserves. When it comes to social media, this respect means using it as a tool to aid one’s personal growth, along with larger social movements.

White people using social media to soothe their racially-charged guilt is nothing new. But, as more and more informative posts are spread about police brutality, systemic and internalized racism, and the reality of life for Black people in the United States, so are social media campaigns that try to soothe white and other privilege-related guilt. This use of privilege, as well as space on social media, to save face is not only insulting, but also ultimately unhelpful to the Black Lives Matter movement.

To put it simply, copying and pasting is not allyship.”

Tagging chains have sprung up across Instagram, saying that all those who support the Black Lives Matter movement should repost and tag others on their story to do the same. These chains, while well-intentioned, only encourage and glorify the idea that BLM is a trend, which is incredibly insulting and ignorant. Blackout Tuesday, which took place on June 2nd, began as a protest within the music industry where businesses and services were encouraged to abstain from operating per usual in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. This protest soon made its way outside of its original audience and onto mainstream social media, mainly Instagram, where people posted solid black images along with the hashtags #blackouttuesday and #blacklivesmatter. Once again, a campaign that began with a well-intentioned background quickly backfired. With so many people using the #blacklivesmatter tag on useless, empty posts, valuable information concerning BLM was drowned in a sea of black squares.

What is most counterproductive about these examples of performative activism are not the gestures themselves, but the lack of follow up that often comes with them. Many people feel as though once they have continued a chain or posted a black square in solidarity their work is done — “I shared, I’m clearly ‘woke,’ what more do you want from me?” As more and more people use these performative posts as an easy getaway, they begin to be treated as genuine social activism, despite the fact that these acts have no tangible impact.

One of the main ways that white supremacy continues is through the apathy of white people. This apathy is deadly in its passivity towards injustice. To label oneself an ally after doing what is comfortable is a false sense of pride — to be an ally is a lifelong commitment to being antiracist, not a single identity someone gains after posting an “In Memoriam” post on their story. To put it simply, copying and pasting is not allyship. Putting in the work to educate oneself, experiencing discomfort, amplifying the voices of Black people, and giving time and money in support of Black Lives Matter is.

So, after sharing on social media, what can one do? While physically protesting would normally be the logical next step, there is also currently a global pandemic, so the idea of going out to protest can be concerning, especially for those who are high-risk or come in contact with those who are on a regular basis. That said, there is still plenty to do from home:

Contact: Make calls, write emails, do what is available to help spread the word and demand change from those in positions of social and political power.
Sign petitions: Signing petitions is a great and incredibly useful form of support. To do so takes less than five minutes, is completely free, and is available wherever the internet is accessible. Just be sure to do some research before signing.
Donate: Donate, donate, donate! Not only is donating time valuable but so is money. If possible, please consider donating to organizations that directly impact communities of color and their support systems. If money is not an available resource, consider donating supplies and goods to various drop off sites in local areas that go directly to communities that need them. (SAC’s Instagram is a great resource for finding drop-off sites and possible volunteer opportunities.)
Educate yourself: Read, watch, and listen to Black people who have chosen to share their experiences. That said, do not rely on Black people in your life to be educators about race. Also, be wary of white saviorism, both in the content you consume and in your own thinking.
Communicate: Talking to people is one of the most fundamental steps to greater change, whether those people be family members, friends, neighbors, or even complete strangers. Be open to conversations and opportunities for dialogue, but also recognize scenarios where the intended audience could just be looking for an explosive reaction, instead of a moment for growth.

When it comes to campaigns and movements for societal change, social media is one of the most useful and valuable tools available in the modern age. That said, it can also be one of the most volatile and unpredictable ones, too. But so long as people take ownership of their personal responsibilities, there is continued hope for a more equitable future.