Navigating Social Media as a Tool for Social Justice

Author: Teresa Mettela (Left Leaning)

With the rise of #BlackLivesMatter and a second wave of #MeToo, Generation Z has channeled this momentum to cause proactive change via social media. Although virtual networks have always created spaces of togetherness, our youth are morphing social media channels into information hubs for social justice movements and action. Need proof? There are over 23 million posts associated with the BLM hashtag on Instagram alone helping educate social media users about important developments surrounding the cause. Not only that, Instagram accounts such as @tobeasurvivor and @anon.co17 raise awareness about sexual assault within marginalized communities and expose rapists/rape apologists for their actions. Helpful graphics that detail global crises and highlight injustice and propaganda spread across the internet like wildfire. However, with all this information circulating in the sea of social media, it can be difficult to navigate these rocky waters. 

“A lot of the time people feel pressure to post something on social media,” says Bromina Rani, a rising junior at Stony Brook University. “Even if you really care about a topic, it can seem performative if you ‘do it wrong.’” 

Bromina touches on the idea of performative activism, engaging with activism as a way to increase social capital rather than because of one’s dedication to a cause. It can be easy to fall into the cycle of “surface level activism” – even the most well-meaning social media user can be unaware of their own biases which is why addressing internet etiquette is especially important when talking about the social media revolution.

Internet etiquette emcompasses a range of actions: commenting on posts, sharing content, tone of voice, etc. It’s important to remember showing verbal support in a racial revolution is a seemingly new phenomena, especially across social media platforms. Therefore, it is particularly necessary to be mindful of impact vs intent.  

Someone’s intentions do not justify how their behavior impacts another person.

You can unintentionally hit my car, but that does not lessen the damage.

Some examples of supportive and unsupportive comments are: 

THE WORLD SUCKS! PEOPLE ARE STUPID. THIS IS SO HOPELESS!!!! 

This is unacceptable and I will not tolerate this type of behavior when I encounter it. 

The same thing happened to me this one time when *insert irrelevant story that takes attention away from the victim’s experience*

I remember a couple times when I felt similarly. Thank you for helping me process this information

Can I repost and share this? Let me know!

I’m going to repost and share this information because I think it’s important for my online community to learn about this as well. Thank you for bringing this to light. 

While being conscious of the ways in which you engage in online conversations, this generation’s youth agree that a person’s actions outside of social media channels have a more lasting and genuine impact. 

“Sometimes I think social media can make us complacent,” says Meron Ippolito, an undergraduate student at The City College of New York. “People post a black square and think they’ve done their part in the BLM movement, or they’ll put #freePalestine in their bio and that’s the extent of their activism. I think this can be dangerous and a deterrent to actionable change.” 

#BlackoutTuesday began as a mass social media protest against racism and police brutality, under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused which was initially created as a spinoff of the music industry’s “The Show Must Go On.” Quickly, the initiative had gained popularity and began trending on social media platforms; hundreds of black images were shared on Instagram. Unfortunately, as Meron pointed out, these acts of solidarity fail to go beyond iPhone screens. Instead, the public should consider other ways to support vulnerable communities such as donating, signing petitions, organizing events, and engaging in relevant conversation. 

Although a number of petitions have gained significant support, they often fail to receive the same attention as more “trendy” acts of solidarity like #BlackoutTuesday. The Justice for George Floyd Change.org petition calls on Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and District Attorney Mike Freeman to prosecute the four police officers involved in George Floyd’s fatal arrest in May. The petition has over 13 million signatures whereas #BlackoutTuesday gained over 28,500,000 posts within 24 hours according to Ten Eighty Magazine.

Being aware of your internet etiquette can make it easier to gain the respect of your audience when looking to raise money or awareness for a cause. Being mindful of  your internet presence can also help you have genuine conversations online that don’t negatively impact others. However, we can all take a deep breath and gain some peace of mind in the fact that weather you are an active user of trending social activism hashtags, aren’t posting at all at the moment or are just posting pictures of your latest attempt at being America’s next top quarantine chef, what you do online is still only as meaningful as the actions you choose to follow them up with offline.

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