Infographic Activism, Gen Z, and Why Social Justice Education Is Hard

Meta-activism: This infographic is about the dangers of infographics!

Jake Miller, Assistant Editor

If a backdrop of pastel pink and ‘70s-inspired doodles does not sound like the best format to explain the school-to-prison pipeline, then you may not be a member of Generation Z. Anyone age twelve to twenty-three, however, is certainly familiar with the wildly popular new way of spreading awareness around social justice issues. It is called “infographic activism,” and it is cause for debate about how best to educate others on issues of race, gender, and even a farmers’ protest against anti-agricultural-regulation lawmakers in India.

To evaluate its worth, we must first understand what infographic activism truly is. The term describes a method of social justice activism in which someone, almost always a liberal, younger woman, posts an aesthetically pleasing infographic to their social media that contains information about social or political issues. The look of the infographic is key here: the colors are fun and vivid, the font is not your average Times New Roman, and there are often illustrations presented alongside whatever point the post argues. This brings up the other important facet of understanding infographics: content. While the visuals may be pleasing to look at, the subject matter can vary in specificity and seriousness; creators may pair a tie-dye print with editorializing on the corruption of police unions or the details of a brutal hate crime. As a result, the tone of these posts sometimes feels odd or downright inappropriate.

Criticisms of infographic activism, like that of any new trend popularized by women, are wide and varied, fashionable with anyone seeking to “own the libs,” but also not without their legitimacy. Infographics can feel tone-deaf at times, and tend to over-simplify complex issues given their concise nature. Their veracity also varies— at best they can cite legitimate sources and contextualize seemingly abstract concepts, at worst they can communicate opinion as fact and spread propaganda. Teacher and IHS activities coordinator Jordan Frost, who works with ASB on many of their social media campaigns, describes this kind of activism as a “double-edged sword,” noting that while “[infographics] can make us lazy in terms of how we obtain information, they’re also incredibly accessible and can reach a wider audience.” Advocates for this kind of social justice education are quick to note just how easy it is to share a post, getting information around at a faster pace in circumstances that can sometimes be life-saving— posts about how to help those hurt by tear gas and where to donate to bail funds were incredibly popular over the summer as police forces utilized brutal tactics against Black Lives Matter protestors.

Another key issue with infographic activism is its efficacy. Posting may be easy, but do those viewing such posts actually take the time to learn and critically think about the subject matter? Senior and ISD Equity member Grace Roy says “I don’t believe most people do, which is why I try be selective when deciding what issues to post about. I understand it may not reach everyone or change many minds, but the other option is staying silent, which is a no-go for me.” It is true that bombarding people with terminology and ideological viewpoints is not always the best way to create productive discourse around an issue; for someone not as involved in social justice, scrolling through posts like these can feel daunting, and well-intentioned messages may start to come off as condescending. This brings us to the next and final criticism of infographic activism, the idea that it refuses to meet people where they are and defeats its own purpose of being accessible. These posts are often saturated with niche terms and can take an accusatory, uncompromising tone— something that is justifiable in many cases, but not the best method for opening those unfamiliar with the concept to new ideas. It is a completely valid take on the problem, one that is unfortunately not easily remediable.

These critiques of infographic activism can help us evaluate social justice education in general, and while many questions are left unanswered, one thing is clear: social justice education is hard. There is no “one size fits all” approach to educating, which means one infographic probably will not help everyone understand an issue. That, however, does not denigrate the fact that an infographic can help some change their viewpoint. Infographics are fantastic for those who know they have a passion for social justice but are just beginning to form their opinions, a group that makes up a significant portion of Generation Z. Discussing the merits of infographic activism is important, or I obviously would not have dedicated four whole paragraphs to it! What we should not do, however, is get so bogged down in its negative aspects that we lose sight of what it can do and the greater goal of spreading awareness any way we can. If someone you care about is not as receptive to a social media post, just try other ways of educating them! “Making issues personal is something that I’ve found to be the best way of getting others to open their minds. It’s much harder to deny the existence of racism or homophobia when you’re telling the person your experiences up front,” says Dan Allée, a college sophomore from Little Rock, Arkansas who leads campus advocacy groups for Latino and LGBTQ+ students. His statement is proof that it is always possible to meet people where they are on issues that may seem hard to grasp.

As ambiguous as infographic activism can be, one response to increased youth involvement in social justice education is clearly troubling. Senior at Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock, Arkansas, Phoebe Sanders, explains how the Arkansas state government recently made an effort to discourage students from getting involved in activism: “Two bills were brought before the House: HB 1218, which would ban public school courses specific to race and gender (i.e., Black History, Women’s History, etc.), and HB 1231, which would withhold funding from any school that teaches the New York Times’ 1619 curriculum, a critical race approach to American history.” The governor dismissed both bills, but the fact that they were even considered is still “dangerous to anyone who cares about freedom of speech and educating young people,” says Sanders.

Here at Issaquah High, we have had our own troubles with social justice education in public schools, with a recent SEL lesson on anti-racist vocabulary being labeled by some as preachy or overreaching the school’s authority. Frost, who recognizes the validity of some of these criticisms says, “It is not going to be the best way to educate everyone and that’s okay. But the response shouldn’t be to just not talk about it. Students see conflicts happening around them and want to understand…we should be facilitating those discussions as educators because that’s what it is: education.” How we approach social justice education can and should be debated, but ignoring or outright banning the discussion of contentious issues altogether is not the way to go. Infographics may come and go, but social justice issues are here to stay.