Social Media's Achilles' Heel: The Performative Activism that Taints the Platform

By Imaan Chaudhry

Social Media is an incredible tool to ignite social change. It can be used as a way to educate, mobilize, and get people interested in what you have to say. It is easy to share a little infographic, video, or donation page to followers with the good intentions of being an activist and staying educated. Any action and efforts are better than none, but it is so easy to cross the line from genuinely caring about the issues of the world and wanting to educate to being performative and only doing so for social approval and ensuring you look as though you care.

Performative activism is a term that is new but has gotten quite popular since 2020- a person who participates in an activist movement not because they believe in the cause, but because they want to be popular. Performative Activism is never really about the issue at hand or garnering the needed awareness, but it is typically done in the efforts of staying up with the trends, and the trend, in that case, being social/political issues.

Take, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement that had gained momentum in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. Social media had been utilized in a new and innovative way to garner momentum, attention, and growth. Although social media was able to spread the word and educate with “infographics with police brutality statistics and headlines with the latest updates on BLM news were reposted and re-shared everywhere online”(Marquette Being able to reach so many people is incredible, however, a lot of the information came with no next steps. Although people were aware of the issue, there was no chance to take action and improve the injustices that they were hearing about.

There is also a level of insensitivity and dehumanizing that comes with posting and sharing about the murder of a man and racial injustices. It felt as though no one took the time to think about the people being affected but rather only saw statistics that they felt were “cool” enough to share. This same insensitivity can be seen in the Israel and Palestine conflict that gained attention in May. Many shared information about what was happening or chose the hashtag #Freepalestine, often not taking the time to understand that this issue had been going on for 70+ years and was too complex to be resolved through social media. There have been over 15 thousand Palestinian casualties at the hands of Israel over decades, yet those lives were never given a thought by social media activists. The topic of Palestine and Israel was "trending" and therefore many decided to jump onto the trend, despite it being a humanitarian crisis and a political war, not a social trend.

What is worse is that, just like any other trend, the hype hits a peak and then quickly falls. Derek Chauvin’s trial has just now been resolved and he has just now been convicted with 22.5 years, yet there has been very little social media attention towards this.

Famous influencers who typically post about social issues present a greater issue;they overshadow minorities who have insightful information, links, and next steps.

For example, Blackout Tuesday was originally meant to be a day to uplift Black creators and show solidarity with BLM. Unfortunately, posts with the helpful information in BLM tags got silenced by the black squares with millions of likes. Because black squares were getting the most likes, posts with information about petitions or donation links were pushed down in users’ algorithms.

The concept of using Social Media as a powerful tool is not old, but it is about taking those two seconds to repost and transforming that into tangible change and good for the communities you are posting about.

Stay tuned for next week as I share how to transform your performative activism into aid towards a marginalized community.