Activism and Social Media
Since the heartbreaking death of George Floyd on May 25, the people of the United States, and the world, have come together protesting for justice. My first memories of the Black Lives Matter movement include the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, in 2012 and 2014 respectively. I was 14 when Trayvon was killed, he was only 12. At this point in my life, I was an active user of the blogging social platform Tumblr, and I learned so much about the injustices of the world I lived in.
Despite going to a liberal arts middle school and high school, in which we read the likes of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of an American Slave, most of my education on the experiences of a Black person in the United States came from the posts I read on Tumblr. It wasn’t until college that I understood that balancing historical “fact” with lived experiences was the best way to understand the truth of institutions in our world. In other words, the stories that came from people of color are necessary to understand the true nature of racism in the United States.
Fast-forward to 2020 and the power of social media is well-recognized and acknowledged worldwide. You do not have to write an autobiography to share your experiences, you can share a video or a text post to millions of people instantly. With this kind of platform, voices and ideas can be shared so easily but can also flood the feeds of users with an abundance of content. The problem of misinformation spreading is not a new one, but it may be new to some of the people joining in activist efforts right now.
As we saw this past week, a trend like posting a fully black square to your Instagram feed can catch like fire- people see others doing this and do the same without questioning where it came from, only intending to embody the movement positively. The “black tile” trend stemmed from an account that looked similar to an organization supporting BLM, but actually was not. Effectively taking over Instagram, the black tiles did not convey meaningful resources to the public, instead, they changed the conversation from resources for the movement to “why posting a black tile is not helping the movement.” This week likely changed how a lot of organizers see and use social media. The attitude of social media users also likely changed, shifting to the idea that no matter how small a following you have, you have a platform and how you choose to use it reflects to the public.
As a brand, the public is watching your every move, and being actively silent not only sets your brand behind in times of social change but also opens a question of intent and ethics within your company. You are effectively setting parameters around your audience by not involving your business in current events. Businesses have great power in this country and truly have the platform to create systemic change in the private sector.
As an activist, old or new, fact-check before hopping onto a trend. Read stories. Question what you know. Constantly ask yourself how you can best serve the people who need it. Don’t forget George Floyd. Don’t forget Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Don’t forget Black Lives Matter the way it was forgotten until another instance of police brutality.
Names to remember (in no particular order):
And so many more.
Rest in Peace.