Activism is not a trend

Aditya Thiyag | The Chronicle

I’m not opposed to using social media as a vessel for change. Its ability to connect individuals globally is unparalleled and information is spread on websites like Twitter and Instagram faster than any news site could hope to achieve. However, it is websites like these where trends and politics mesh together to create a beast of its own: performative activism.

Performative activism is defined as “activism that is done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause” and it has recently transformed into a much bigger problem due to events like the George Floyd Protests in 2020.

For example, in June 2020, a social media movement known as “blackouttuesday” was created. People would post a black square with the hashtags #blackouttuesday to seemingly show their support for Black Lives Matter. 28 million people reportedly posted a black square with this hashtag, inconveniencing protesters nationwide who used social media as an outlet for organizing and thus, clogging social media. However, there were only 13 million signatures on the petition advocating for Justice for George Floyd at the time. Even looking at the numbers today, the petition in Floyd’s name only had 19.7 million signatures prior to his murderer being locked up. That’s a little over 8 million less than the amount of people posting a black square in one day.

Incidents like this get further exacerbated with the introduction of “influencers”: social media celebrities who built their fanbase by hopping on and off the most popular trends. During the 2020 protests, influencers would pretend to fix looted stores and stand in protesting crowds with signs, using social change as a backdrop for their photoshoots and turning protesting into an aesthetic rather than a way for people to spark change.

Social media allowed for a man’s unjust murder to be made into a trend that people could use to increase their fanbase. And that’s something that makes me disgusted and uncomfortable day after day.

There is so much more that can be done.

Sign petitions. Email your local politicians. Heck, even spread resources and information on your social media. But don’t lose sight of what cause you are fighting for. And remember that even when it isn’t trending every week, there is always more work to be done.