The Double Edged Sword of Social Media Activism, A Triumph And A Toll
This past week, the digital space has given voice to the outrage, grief, trauma, anger, and resiliency within the black community. It has unified us, activated our allies, and demanded action, but not without a price. And while there’s no question that social media is a powerful activism tool, we must recognize it’s difficult complexities in order to move forward.
Social media has revolutionized the nature of black activism.
The practice of activism online has allowed black people to mobilize in a truly unprecedented way. We have created spaces for black people to engage in dialogues that do not exist in the physical realm, brought language to the emotional trauma our parents and grandparents did not have the words for, educated one another, and connected people with the resources required to take action — all at a rapid fast pace.
And with our ability to unite, speak up, and relentlessly fight against the injustices that come before us (digitally and physically), also comes an enormous toll, particularly for the younger generation of black people whose adolescence has been shaped by the era of online activism.
Digital activism has complicated Black Gen Z’s relationship with social media.
For most of Black Gen Z, now ages 7–22, the tragic murders of the past week are events that have recurred from our late youth to our early adulthood. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, now almost 7 years old, has ebbed and flowed our social feeds with the cycle of racism caught on tape, ever since our relationship with social media began.
Black Gen Z does not know a digital era when the fight for our existence, wasn’t up for debate.
And throughout the countless murders, hashtags, and protests, the images of violence towards black bodies have become normalized, shared, retweeted, and used as tools for clickbait. This is not only traumatizing, as the sight of black death shouldn’t be as accessible as a frivolous social post, but it’s expository of how little social media companies have done to implement structures that protect the dignity of murdered black people.
Why is the nature of technology/social media so primal and mindless, that tragedy must be put out on display, just for our counterparts to believe racial injustice exist?
I don’t know the answer. But, it’s especially perplexing considering it’s the creativity of Black Gen Z that sustains social platforms via trends, crazes, and content innovation, where is our respect?
Now, social platforms need to value the mental health and dignity of young black people, as much as they value our creative contribution, and that starts with structurally shifting the way we interact with graphic content online.
Brands and corporations continue to fail black people.
Today, black culture is pop culture, and brands know this. It’s why most spend so much time co-opting black lingo on social media, enlisting black athletes and celebrities to be the face of campaigns, and jumping at every convenient opportunity (Black History Month, MLK Day) to preach diversity, equity, and inclusion.
But it’s interesting, the same brands who exert all efforts to obtain the black dollar, are also the brands who fail to address any social injustice against black people. And yes, it’s not hard to believe that it’s easier for most brands to wait for the moment of outrage to “pass”, rather than speak up, especially when you consider that most don’t even have a black person in a position of leadership. In 2018, 3% of black people held Chief Marketing Officer positions.
And while some brands have made statements, social posts, and ads, it’s just not enough.
Also, can we note the brevity, the vague language, and near-identical messaging amongst these posts? This is the bare minimum.
Ultimately, brands need to look beyond what they can say, and dig into what they can do. It’s time to donate, hire more black people, honor and listen to the black people they’ve already hired, and start to truly understand the plight of the people behind the culture they have exploited and profited off of.
Speaking up against social injustices can no longer be a single action, but rather an ongoing effort, a frequent practice, and a routine ritual.
Acknowledgment ≠ Action
Without a doubt, social media activism has increased the visibility and awareness of social injustice in a way that can not be ignored. In the words of Will Smith, “racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed”, and social media has played an integral role in bringing light to the harsh realities black people face every day.
It has forced our white counterparts to acknowledge the wrongdoings of our social justice system, and has made the historic option of “turning a blind eye”, unacceptable and irresponsible.
And while the result is a spike in digital conversations, support from allies, and social media “solidarity”, too many times efforts start and end online.
The nature of how we behave on social media has tricked us into believing that the act of posting, liking, sharing, and retweeting, by itself, is an action step. The culture of social media has forced people to speak on social injustice not out of genuine concern, but out of obligation, intimidation, and fear of being labeled racist.
For brands, influencers, and digital creators alike, a post in solidarity is worth nothing, if who you are and how you operate in this world only further perpetuates idealogy that fuels racial inequality. This includes appropriation, microaggression, colorblindness, and any other form of covert racism.
None of the issues mentioned here will be fixed overnight. The changes required will be slow, hard, and not without resistance. However, this alone should not stop us from recognizing why and how we can better our activism in the digital realm.
Please visit blacklivesmatters.carrd.co to take action.
#JusticeForAhmaudArbery #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd