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Performative Activisim in the Age of Social Media: Dangerous and Damaging

Generation Z is widely known as one of the most in-touch and tech-savvy groups of people to exist to date. Access to technology from incredibly young ages also includes exposure to social media and platforms from the time we are old enough to download phone applications. 

This pairs incredibly with the rise of performative activism over the years. Defined as, "activism has done to increase one's social capital rather than because of one's devotion to a cause" the term calls attention to an important issue in the age of social media and awareness. 

One of the greatest examples of this was the black square trend that took place on Instagram after the murder of George Floyd. Instagram users flooded the app with a single black square on their feed, in hopes of demonstrating support for the movement. 

However, tagging the photos with the #BlackLivesMatter actually did more harm than good, seeing as the large influx of black squares drowned out access to resources for black people and important information for protestors, as well as GoFundMe Links and other beneficial resources. 

This means that the black squares- a simple post to Instagram with virtually no real-world value, was indeed damaging to those protesting on the ground, and impacted by the violence. 

Social media can be very helpful for social activism and advocating for change. Petitions are spread quickly through links and are easily signed, information can be spread about where protests are taking place, and fundraisers can garner support by asking for support on social media. However, it is equally important that we continue to fight for justice off of social media as well.  

So, in a time period chock-full of social media use, here are some things to keep in mind when discussing and spreading awareness for social justice issues on your platforms. 

- Not every infographic you see is fact-checked. It is extremely important to do research on the information presented in the graphic and ensure it is correct before sharing it with your platforms. Without ensuring it is accurate, you run the risk of spreading misinformation. 

- Amplify the Voices of Impacted Groups. It is incredibly important that we fight for equal rights for all minority groups, and thus important to amplify the voices of those groups, in particular, to deem what can be truly helpful. 

- Back Your Social Media Activism. While posting does in fact spread awareness, it is important that posts are backed by action. Donations are encouraged, and concrete actions are important. 

In order to be the best ally possible, we must continue to take our activism further than social media. Social media can be a tool- but it is a stepping stone for the fight that must go far beyond any hashtag or black square. 


Taylor Starr

St. John's '24

Taylor Starr is a Biomedical Sciences major who draws much of her writing inspiration from the idea of sharing information & inspiring change, as well as to pursue personal passions.
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