Social Media Activism: Performance vs. Impact

Rebekah Rahman, Staff Writer

After the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, people across all social media platforms began a massive outcry for awareness, education, and, most importantly, change. Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time people, particularly black people, have used social media to protest against police brutality. However, it seemed like the topic of Black Lives Matter, police brutality, or even kneeling were considerably more taboo, with many pushing against it or staying silent entirely. Presently, it seems as if everyone is using their platform to speak on the matter. As they should. After all, silence during a fight for human rights can easily be mistaken as satisfaction with the status quo (that being the racially-fueled murders of black civilians). When it seems like information and opinions can be shared with just two taps, it leaves people to question the authenticity of such actions. I will not be including participants of physical protests, marches, or rallies here, but the unjust and unprovoked police force used against peaceful protesters is deserving of another article entirely.

Obviously, taking to social media has allowed for the voices of those that cannot speak to be heard and remembered. Still, considering the viral nature of these types of posts, it can seem as though a simple repost of “#blacklivesmatter” is more to save face rather than anything else. Saving face, posting because it is trendy, or doing it just to avoid criticism are the main intentions behind performative activists. This means that intention is the main characteristic that separates performance activism from impactful advocates for change. Intention does not always equate to action, but it is not necessarily difficult to recognize one’s intention behind their posts.

There is no one way to be an activist. Maybe you are not the most proficient writer but you have the financial means to donate to the cause. Or, if it is not possible for you to donate, you can sign petitions and share them to others. Put in the research, and direct your non-black friends and family members to educational resources so they too can contribute helpfully. If nothing else, listen to black voices. Not just your one black friend. Not just the one activist you follow on Instagram. Listen and seek out diverse black voices. Greater still, do not expect your black peers to relive their life-long trauma in an effort to hold your hand and spoon-feed you information. When the world is at the touch of your fingertips, self-education is the bare minimum, and more of a duty.

You may face criticism for only posting a black screen for the sake of awareness. Even so, does that really matter? A true ally does not get defensive in the face of deserved criticism, because they are too busy searching for new and innovative ways to encourage radical change. There is no time for you to gloat about all of the work you have supposedly done. Activism is not a competition and will not always be this trendy. Will you be an ally on and off the screen, when you are not protected by anonymity? Understandably, there is little to no tolerance for the silent, the “moderate,” or the ill-intentioned. If you believe yourself to be on the right side of history, then being cancelled or controversial should be of no concern to you. Engaging in self-reflective discussions and calling your loved ones out on their inherent prejudice cannot be accomplished in one day. It is a lifestyle. The fight for human rights has been happening long before you were born, and may endure long after you are gone. You have some catching up to do.