Perils of Performative Activism
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Perils of Performative Activism

Why is performative activism on social media so dangerous? How can you actively avoid it?

Perils of Performative Activism

Recently, following the unjust death of George Floyd, an African American man, at the hands of four police officers, protests and riots have been taking place across the country in all 50 states and even across the world. Millions of people have shown up to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and to protest racism and police brutality. Along with the protests, riots, and marches, there has been a huge movement on social media. People have been posting videos from protests, essentially primary sources, showing things that mainstream media has refused to cover. Others are also advocating for Black individuals by posting information about the movement and different resources including petitions that need to be signed, protestor bail funds, donation links, voting information, protest information, and other helpful resources to keep others educated.

The main purpose of the social media movement is to amplify the voices and lives of Black people, whose hardships many of us will never have to experience. I have seen thousands of posts aiding this movement and supporting the fight against racism and police brutality. Unfortunately, because social media is a tool that can be used incorrectly, I have also seen so much performative activism, and it truly makes me uncomfortable and disgusted. For anyone unaware of what this is, a quick google search explains that performative activism is activism done to boost one's social standing and reputation rather than because of one's devotion to a cause. It is dangerous because it consists of people supporting a movement simply for their reputation, and once they do this, they feel that they are "off the hook" and have done their share of activism. It detracts from true change and allows people to turn what is a serious movement into something for their own personal gain. For celebrities with huge platforms, many who fail to speak up on social media become pressured by their followers who want to see their icons advocating for positive change, and are eventually pressured into posting things they do not believe in to satisfy their followers, making a mockery of the movement. This is also an example of the dangers of social media and performative activism.

Social media and performative activism are dangerous in this case because over time they invalidate the Black Lives Matter movement and slowly turn it into a social media "trend". People's lives are not a trend and should never be turned into such. For instance, the #blackouttuesday movement on June second was an extremely performative thing that did nothing to help the BLM cause. People who had previously not spoken out on a single issue on social media went on to post a single black square with the hashtag #blackouttuesday. Although this action may have had good intentions it did more harm than good; thousands of posts used the hashtag #blacklivesmatter instead, clogging it with black squares, blocking out helpful posts and information regarding protests and the movement. This posting of black squares also allowed people who had previously done nothing to show their support to feel validated, as if they had done something, when in reality they had done absolutely nothing. A similar example of performative activism was the Instagram story tagging chains, where people tagged 10 others who "would not break the chain" to show solidarity for the black lives matter movement. Once again, while the intention may have been honorable, the outcome was more harmful. After being tagged, many people tagged 10 friends without offering any other information that could be helpful.

Turning people's lives and a matter as serious as this into a trend is something that seems abhorrent to me, and it is something I refuse to participate in. There are so many other ways to help that do not involve reposting chains on social media. I advise allies of the black community to, more than anything, amplify the voices of your black peers. Before participating in anything on social media, ask yourself a couple of questions to make sure that what you are doing is not harmful and that your activism is not performative: How exactly am I helping by doing this? Who will benefit from what I am posting? What can I do instead to show my support and be helpful at the same time? Am I doing this because I want to send a certain message and help the movement, or am I looking for some type of validation?

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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