North Texas Daily

Social movements aren’t online trends

Social movements aren’t online trends

Social movements aren’t online trends
July 04
02:44 2020

The internet has revolutionized our pursuits of social change. People can sign a petition, make a donation or demand accountability on a range of issues from almost anywhere in the world. However, not everything we do on the web to fight inequality and bigotry actually helps the movements we are trying to support. Least helpful of all is falling into the trap of taking a passive approach to activism and treating it like it is the latest internet challenge. Social movements are not online trends — they require our full attention and efforts.  

Social media has become the largest enabler of surface-level activism. A bunch of celebrities who sing “Imagine” in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic are not the only ones guilty of “performative activism.”  This form of superficial advocacy is used to increase or protect someone’s reputation. The actual cause loses priority as the individual puts their social capital first. Before you write it off as something you would never do, know that carrying out some form of performative activism isn’t always a deliberate choice. This form of “slacktivism” is common enough that plenty of well-meaning people often fall prey to it without even realizing what they are doing. Or, to be more precise, what they are not doing. 

An armchair revolutionary is defined as someone who advocates for change without taking any real action to bring it about. For years the internet has allowed us to take such a seat when it comes to anti-racist movements like Black Lives Matter. The irony of pushing each other to get out of our metaphorical armchairs and into the middle of the movement during a global pandemic defined by social distancing is not lost. However, it is not difficult to take actual action, even if it has to be from behind a screen. Just push yourself to do more than like and share.  

The easiest way to trivialize a social movement is to treat it like an online trend. So before you start advocating for a cause, make sure you are not doing it just because everyone else is too. Make sure you are not regulating your support of Black Lives Matter to only stories on Instagram that will disappear in a day. Check your motivation to participate in, “I stand with #blacklivesmatter” tag chains with your friends, which ultimately focus on you and how not racist you are. Question why Blackout Tuesday was the first and/or only Black Lives Matter related thing you posted about. Address why you feel like signing some petitions and calling it a day is a job well done. Finally, work toward changing your motivation and behavior instead of avoiding what makes you uncomfortable. It is not shameful to educate yourself to improve your methods of participation.    

To achieve real change, we must be active outside of our closed loop of followers. Use the Internet to broaden your activism instead of limiting it. Look up the closest protest being held near you. If you cannot attend a demonstration, take your petition signing to the next level and take the time to call government officials. Donate what you can spare to organizations like the Dallas chapter of Black Youth Project 100 or the North Texas-based Mothers Against Police Brutality. If you really cannot spare anything, stream videos on YouTube associated with the term “Views for a Vision.” Pioneered by Zoe Amira, 100% of the advertising revenue made with these videos will be donated to Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist organizations.  

We have grown used to the fast-lived nature of the internet. Memes and trending hashtags become outdated in less than a month in the never-ending search for fresh content. We cannot allow ourselves to continue to treat social movements the same way. Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 and has been working tirelessly for seven years, whether or not we have paid attention. Following the death of George Floyd on May 25, the rest of the world started to take the fight against systemic racism and its police brutality seriously again. Active participation is required to keep this momentum going — that means treating Black Lives Matter as more than just the latest internet trend.   

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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