Before I address the problematic use of social media in light of the most recent wave of the #BlackLivesMatter protest, I would like to acknowledge my own background. I am a white woman and I recognise that I come from a place of privilege. A year ago, before I came to university, I would not have had the confidence or the education to write this article. I’ve taken this opportunity, borne of devastating origins, to educate myself and speak out on issues that I had previously subconsciously chosen to ignore. I refuse to ignore them anymore.
Although social media is often considered a useful promotion tool, used to broadcast calls to action and protest details, a frightening aspect has emerged over the last couple of weeks. Where it had previously raised awareness of issues and shown support for movements, I feel that many people are using their accounts as a cover up for their inaction.
Now, I’d like to make it clear that I am not targeting everyone who has posted in relation to the movement on their social media – I’m not. In fact, I have seen a number of accounts that have helped to assist in my own education, whether that be details of how to donate, or promoting UK protests. Instead, I object to those that have simply posted a graphic to their story and pretended that the problem has gone away.
Unfortunately, social media has quickly turned into an outlet for people to absolve themselves without giving any thought to the matter. People I have previously challenged for passing racist comments behind closed doors were suddenly posting images of George Floyd, or statements from their favourite music artists on the matter. Of course, I know that many people who have done this have then quietly gone on to contribute in other ways, for which I applaud them, but I fear that they are not the majority.
Another problem, although often carried out in good faith, is the ‘Tag 10 friends’ challenge, in which one posts #BlackLivesMatter to your story and tag 10 friends who you believe will not break the chain. For me, this brings to mind the most recent uses of this challenge as the pandemic broke out: challenging friends to post funny photos of themselves, or challenging them to down an alcoholic drink – inappropriate, considering how this trivialises generations of systematic oppression and hatred.
So, if you believe yourself, whether it be consciously or subconsciously, to have been guilty of inaction, please take a minute and think about what you can actively do to show that you believe Black lives matter. Personally, I took the time to educate myself as much as I could; I understand I don’t know everything and will never understand the first-hand experiences of Black people, but I think I am taking steps in the right direction. The following document contains educational resources, including books by Black Activists, twitter threads on the current protests, and a course on the history of African American emancipation: www.ally.wiki.
In the words of Angela Davis “in a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” Posting one graphic on your Instagram story is not being anti-racist, taking action is. Fake social media activism is doing more harm than good.