by Monique Kasonga
Image: camilo jimenez / Unsplash
#StopAsianHate. #MeToo. #SaveIndia. #FreePalestine. #PrayforUyghurMuslims. #BlackOutTuesday. What do all of these social justice issues have in common? They all became performative social media trends. According to Medium, an online social journalism platform, performative activism is “activism that is done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause.” Though many can define this negative and destructive behaviour otherwise, this definition is the basis of the issue at hand. The fact that these social justice issues are frequently brought up is not the most damaging aspect, but rather the method in which the information is incorrectly displayed and shared, the lack of depth to the information, and the unrealistic “woke” complex that many social media users are feeling forced to have. These trending issues alter almost monthly, making the actual movements meaningless. Moreover, many social media users love to use the phrase “the media isn’t talking about this,” while their only media source is social media, where people only speak about certain issues once it becomes “trendy.” Given this context, it is time for there to be a switch in media consumption and for the pressures put on social media users to be alleviated for the collective good of our society.
If you’re an Instagram user, you’ve certainly seen the increase of infographics in the last year. For clarity, infographics are short posts that contain summarized information on virtually anything. The issue with this trend is that many social media performative activists have begun to push the idea that reading and sharing infographics provides people with sufficient education and thus allow them to speak on the issues at hand. Yet, most of the issues that start to “trend” on social media are complex and have many different aspects to them. This makes it difficult for people to understand the complexities from a simple Instagram infographic. With this in mind it is unrealistic and unfair to expect every single person in the world to speak on and represent specific issues with little background knowledge or interest. It is time that people find things that they are personally passionate about instead of following the trends. Social media communities should be pushing the narrative of educating oneself on specific issues that one wants to tackle as more important than thinking that you need to repost the infographics people are sharing everywhere.
The Woke Complex
Being “woke” is increasingly used as a byword for social awareness. However, this word has given access to a superiority complex that all social media users are striving to attain. Social media stars and influencers who rose to fame for other reasons are pressured by their fans to promote every single social justice issue that comes to trend on social media. However, this typically leads them to make statements on issues that they are uninformed about, resulting in them receiving negative feedback that is damaging to their image. It is important to recognize that social media users need to stop taking the uniformed stance that everyone they see is taking. People who see a trending topic but lack adequate education on certain subjects should not necessarily be speaking on these issues until they have properly educated themselves through several different sources. Otherwise, the voices of those who are suffering and experiencing the issues will be drowned out. In other words, whether it be a social media star or just your average user, one should be able to use their platform to explore things that they are personally passionate and informed about.
The Rise of Misinformation
When it comes to many of these trending social justice issues, it is important for users to realize that before posting, it is critical to conduct thorough research, as misinformation is extremely harmful and difficult to remove. Misinformation includes not just information with inaccurate judgment but also stories that lack contextualizing specifics such as verifiable facts or sources. It may also happen when articles are written in a biased, divisive tone that only presents one point of view. Social media tends to favour gossip, speed, and having something to spread to others. This is why it is no shock that misinformation has been frequently spread through social media. Since the internet has a system of publishing, sharing and consuming information with very little oversight or standardization, most people viewing these stories on social media platforms are unable to know what is credible or not. Fake news and false reports have increased as a result of a combination of information overload and a lack of interest in discovering correct information.
Social media and infographics should never be your first or last step to learning about complex social, political or economic issues. Privately developing and challenging your viewpoint has far more significance than publicly “speaking out” with a misleading or simplistic infographic. Of course, the urge to raise awareness is very widespread, but a delayed truthful post is preferable to a hastily fabricated one that can be misleading. Stop listening to Instagram infographics that tell you how to think and rather look for educational and non-biased sources such as books or different activists to teach you how to think for yourself. It is time for social media users to learn to critically analyse their media.
Despite the negative effects of social media activism, the widespread use of hashtags and posts containing materials and services has resulted in a significant increase in donations and recognition for certain organizations. It’s a good idea to be aware of social concepts, but they shouldn’t dominate your life. Ask yourself the next time you share something, “Is this helping me more than the people it’s supposed to help?” If you answered “yes,” you may want to reconsider. Do some research and share information that can actually help those who have been discriminated against. The internet is both a beautiful and a terrible place, and individuals must strive to make it a little better through personal acts.