In Times of Radical Unrest, Social Media Activism Is Not Enough
“Protests should not be confined to hashtags of the virtual world.”
The world has whacked into a whirlwind of tragic events over the past few weeks, and now more than ever, we’re drawn to acknowledge a shift of mindsets on many levels. Since the death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black Minnesotan who died in police custody on May 25, the Black community and its allies have been fighting against the injustice with great passion. Strong-hearted crowds, carrying banners and sporting face masks, have protested to get a reprisal.
Floyd’s death clearly entailed something that’s very powerful: the start of a new era of public speaking, a revolutionary movement that implores change. Such phenomenon has become apparent on social media, and Instagram has been a platform that witnesses togetherness and rage amid its aficionados. As the amount of resources surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement continues to grow, it’s vital to be able to process, consume and spread information efficiently.
“There needs to be active change beyond social media platforms. We’re talking about racism embedded in the systems for hundreds of years,” notes Georgia Medley, London-based fashion stylist. She continues, “We’re talking about the dehumanization of Black people for hundreds of years. The narrative that leads one to instantly believe that the Black body is guilty until proven innocent — man, woman and child. What do you think needs to happen in order for this to change? This is way deeper than a black square, folks. We need people to put in the work, to make real movements. We need real allies, people willing to be the change.”
“There needs to be active change beyond social media platforms. We’re talking about racism embedded in the systems for hundreds of years.” — Georgia Medley
“However, before that, White or non-Black people actually need to feel convicted by this horrific history of the slave trade, blackface and all the other traumatic things Black lives had to face and still do to this day,” says Medley. “This conviction will lead to action, and this action to positive change — real, everlasting change.”
The past few weeks have seen a plethora of information inundating our timelines. As people are showing eagerness to nurture equality in its truest forms, Medley’s reflection serves as an important reminder: to impede social repression, there needs to be substantial allyship with significant global participation.
According to Clay Johnson’s book titled The Information Diet, society is called to consume and advocate for information that is as close to the source as possible, then do our due diligence with research. Accessing the connection between social media engagement and activism for strategic advocacy is tricky. Though media tends to facilitate the sharing of protests (amplifying measures of advocacy), it gives way to a lazy form of activism also known as slacktivism, weakening the strength of a social movement (case in point: #BlackOutTuesday’s black-square performance).
This dichotomy suggests a new era that explores a connection between the media and the importance of protest to implement immediate change. Rather than limiting advocacy to outcomes like multimedia analytics, Johnson’s theory proposes that a shift in advocacy through in-depth engagement could ultimately bring about more reflective outcomes. On the opposite side, it’s fair to say advocacy on social media is useful, but that’s only to a certain extent. Society, in most cases, acts far too robotically, undermining the point of publicly advocating for a cause.
“Slacktivism is not enough, but I do not deny the strength of social media,” says Italy-based commentator and reporter Federica Caiazzo. “Social media surely allows certain social issues to spread widely, especially when the Millennial generation is not so used to reading the news, but protests should not be confined to hashtags of the virtual world.”
“Marches, peaceful protests and any other circumstances that allow the whole society — and by ‘the whole society,’ I mean Black and White people altogether — to fight for evolution remain, in my opinion, necessary and essential,” Caiazzo adds. “For example, I am getting information about the demonstrations that will take place in the cities of southern Italy. It’s time to act, not to be spectators in front of a smartphone.”
Caiazzo’s argument scores a fair point and identifies the importance of both campaigning and actively sharing as the ways forward. Making donations and signing petitions are, of course, important causes for change as well.
“You need to be educated and empowered enough to have difficult conversations with friends and family, or even a stranger.” — Thomas Morgan
“People hide behind the false reality that is social media,” remarks photographer and creative leader Thomas Morgan. “Inventing personas that match what is on trend is a way of pleasing a community of people that don’t know their true beliefs. Unfortunately, that is not enough. There are many difficult conversations to be had, conversations that can only be had with real communication. If you feel passionately online and can’t translate that into real life, were you that passionate to begin with?”
He concludes, “I am tired of people pretending that they care about something because everyone else cares. It needs to be genuine. You need to be educated and empowered enough to have difficult conversations with friends and family, or even a stranger. We need you to call out ignorance and defend others.” Without introspection or commitment, words become empty.
Similarly, image consultant and stylist Leila Violet Bailey commented on the significance of promulgating the dialogue beyond the digital façade. “I think the most important thing is to not only show your solidarity outwardly, but also inwardly,” she says. “Look at your structural relationships at work and ask yourselves if your content, teams and branding represent the minority and not just the majority.”
In times of social unrest, the information “overload” is here to stay. There is no stopping it. So, rather than unplugging completely, the answer is clear: this is the moment for us to handle and spread information more responsibly and effectively than what the system urges us to do. Now is the time that we take real, meaningful action. Use your voice to demand for racial justice and equality because together, we can make a change.
Chidozie Obasi is a UK-based journalist, reporter and writer. His editorial roles specialize in trends, fashion, entertainment and cultural affairs. Working across news and features, Obasi has compiled in-depth pieces and short reads on a variety of subjects, ranging from social activism to game-changing supermodels. You can connect with Obasi on Instagram and his website.