Obviously, all ‘trends’ have to start somewhere, but when is it seen as genuine and when does it become required to follow convention out of fear of being negligent to wider societal issues? For those that choose to follow suit for this reason, it can seem that their efforts are half-hearted and simply copy and pasted – or rather, performative.
“Performative activism is activism done to increase one's social capital rather than because of one's devotion to a cause. It is often associated with surface-level activism, referred to as slacktivism.” – Wikipedia
The term rose to popularity following the heart-breaking murder of George Floyd in 2020. Floyd’s passing triggered months of protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It also prompted “blackout Tuesday”. The day, which initially aimed to act as a collective effort to protest racism and police brutality, primarily encouraged businesses from releasing music and carrying out business operations (#TheShowMustBePaused).
Blackout Tuesday witnessed around 28 million Instagram users participating in the movement. However, only 13 million people had signed the petition to arrest the police officers who were involved in the murder of Floyd. This, in turn, generated an influx of accusations and criticisms that a wealth of the blackout Tuesday participants were simply engaging in ‘performative activism’.
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For many social media users who are well-versed with the respective app’s activity and are aware of the common behaviours seen by its users, it wasn’t hard to differentiate between genuine activism and slacktivism. Common forms of the effortless act include:
The user liking, sharing, or retweeting a cause as opposed to developing their opinion about it
Signing an internet petition for the sake of media bias;
Copying and pasting messages in support of the cause;
Reposting campaign pages that are making the rounds without following or engaging in the content of the pages;
Following and using the hashtags associated with respected causes without understanding the implications behind it;
Changing their profile picture to indicate solidarity.
So are there any positives?
“However, with the introduction of the Internet and the expanding access to information and connectivity, activism has begun presenting itself in diverse, and arguably more effective, ways.” – Brittney Dimond
Quite rightly, the internet has introduced a wealth of pros and cons to our developing world. It acts as a source of information for millions which likewise presents both problems and solutions. On the one hand, the internet is largely unregulated which means that false information can be publicised at large. On the other, the internet has provided society with an education otherwise untaught and has created a new method for communicating wider societal issues.
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As previously mentioned, one of the common forms of performative activism is sharing the content of campaign pages. Campaign pages in themselves are incredibly useful resources for people looking to learn about issues and they help to create safe spaces for potentially marginalised bodies.
So, whilst the curation and activity of these pages are a positive to social media activism, there remains an incredibly fine line for users sharing the content. Undoubtedly, there is a clear distinction between those reposting with legitimate beliefs and interests and those wishing to stage their activism through the bare minimum.
Likewise, social media activism serves as a communication tool for social justice. It provides passionate users with the opportunity to amplify their voice, bring awareness to a previously uninformed group, unite ideas, and advocate for issues bigger than themselves.
Nevertheless, many argue that genuine activism can only be supported by concrete actions. Therefore, it remains uncertain just how effective social media activism is in comparison to its counterpart’s physical actions.
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