Who Does This Benefit?

Written by: Ana Storer

Social media activism has been used in so many ways to help amplify voices, educate people, and make meaningful change. From the #MeToo movement to amplifying voices about climate injustice or coordinating protests for Black Lives Matter, many movements have been rooted in social media. There is no doubt that social media has allowed people to access stories they haven’t heard before and has helped people understand how they can make an impact in their communities. Social media has empowered and amplified voices that have been otherwise silenced and is less restricted than traditional media platforms. This route of activism became increasingly popular and important during the pandemic where isolation and other restrictions limited ways that people could safely advocate. It’s no wonder that social media activism has emerged as a prominent way where people can share content they’re passionate about, promote charities and resources, and learn about issues that they may have previously been ignorant about. However, there are consequences to social media activism.

When I started researching for this article and thinking it over, I realized that there is no way to encapsulate all the nuances of this topic in one article. The impacts of social media activism range from all the positives to all the negatives and everything in between. There are issues with performative activism, misrepresenting information, distilling complex topics that aren’t meant to be digestible into pretty and appealing infographics, and so much more. If you’re interested, I would recommend amandamaryanna’s great YouTube video entitled “the instagram infographic industrial complex” which discusses a lot of the different impacts of social media activism.

One of the issues is that a lot of the content made to be shared and reposted on social media implores the reader to share immediately, to prove that they are a “good ally” or “woke”. This instills an idea that immediacy is more important than actual engagement with the content. It is much more work to read through a post, understand what it is saying, look up the sources, and critically think about the impacts of posting. But, it is also clearly the better way to go about being an activist. This understanding is part of the distinction between being an activist and being a performative activist.

Social media is complicated – we can be both the consumer and the creator. A question that I think is important when looking at content that tackles social issues is:

Who does this benefit?

Because, as complicated as this topic is, I think that a lot can be revealed by looking at who benefits from this content being consumed or created. 

For example, if you look at content revolving around anti-racism, questions that might come up could be:

  • Is it posted by a company that wants to appear “woke” only to prevent hurting its reputation? Do they back up these posts by hiring and representing racialized people?
  • Does the person who posted this only care about looking like an activist or are they sharing resources that empower racialized communities and encourage others to be anti-racist?
  • Does this content empower racialized people and liberate them from oppressive power structures, or does it trivialize the systemic and deep-rooted issues to make them digestible to the ignorant?
  • Would anyone in the community I’m trying to help be hurt or triggered by me sharing graphic content about their oppression?
  • Am I only sharing this so other people don’t think that I’m racist? 
  • Am I actively engaging with the content and making sure that it is accurate before sharing?

There are so many more ways you can look at social media activism and all the posts and motivations that accompany that, especially in the context of other issues. And, it is important to look within yourself and understand what you are trying to achieve by posting or sharing this type of content. If you believe in what you are posting and that it can empower communities or encourage others to understand what you are passionate about, do it. That goes to the heart of what can be good about social media activism. So, by all means, keep engaging in activist content – just be conscious of what you are viewing and the impacts of it. Because ultimately, social media is a core part of society and our lives, and it is up to us to use it in a way that aligns with our real values. 

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