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The Imposter of Activism

By: Bridget Frawley

An evaluation of the effectiveness of performative activism, “slacktivism”, on political, social, and environmental movements.

As social media is on the rise, so is the imposter of activism.

Performatic activism, also termed “slacktivism,” may go unnoticed, masked behind numerous Instagram stories of petitions, reposted photos of hundreds of feet marching down hand-made poster strewn streets, Twitter hashtags, and retweets. Hence, slacktivism may be difficult to pinpoint, but its impacts are easier to trace in social media feeds and platforms.

Performative activism is when an individual posts about a cause through social media or joins an activist movement without having a direct connection or belief in the cause. The motivator for demonstrating participation is often an enhanced sense of belongingness or gaining an increased respect for others or Instagram followers. The term slacktivism emerged during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests following the passing of George Floyd to police brutality. This rise in participation towards a cause was seen on June 2, 2020 during an Instagram “blackout” where 28 million users uploaded black squares on their Instagram feed according to a 2020 article from NCB News. #BlackoutTuesday became trending as the black squares continued to be posted.

Due to the infiltration of black squares covering social feeds, posts about developments in the movement and informational videos and photos were being hidden. However, this united front and sudden surge of political appearance through social platforms towards the movement instantly spread the word about the movement and prompted others to seek education as to what the core values of the Black Lives Movement is and what served as its catalyst.

Professor at New York University Nicholas Mirzoeff expands upon this by expressing how activity on social platforms can keep the Black Lives Matter movement in conversation and within the political sphere. However, Mirzoeff notes that the in-person protests serve as a backbone and structural support of the movement.

The Boston Medical Center comments how performative activism merely skims the surface and if just a “first step in one’s journey.” The accessibility of social media and appearing to be a part of the cause has resulted in the garnering of more demonstrations of this form of activism, but in order to have an impact, effort needs to go beyond the accessible. To have impact, reposting needs to become actively attending protests, painting signs, lifting them high, organizing and signing petitions, and drafting legislation. Activists act, they do not just repost and share online, for their offline contribution has a stronger weight and influence on the cause they are advocating for.

The line between authenticity and seeking social clout is one that is challenging to pinpoint. Seeing someone post an Instagram story advocating against the overturning of court case Roe v. Wade draws the question if there is genuine emotion behind the post or if it was just to follow the trending hashtags. Although, there are ways aspiring activists can use social media to make an impact on a cause. Social media can be a vehicle for education. Of course, an Instagram story post with one statistic or name is not going to inform, but sharing these posts to intrigue and inspire others to research more in the issue can serve as a streamline into self-education. In addition to reposting, providing links to articles from veritable websites that provide clarity and context to the given situation can make these posts more advantageous. Putting links to petitions in Instagram bios and directing followers to it can help gain traction and support towards issues that matter to the individual.

Social media does not need to be the plague of activism, turning it into performative, follower-driven demonstrations. Instead, its efficiency can be resourced as a tool to quickly spread awareness to a vast audience and provide educational resources to prompt others to research more into the issue to form their own opinion.

The imposter of activism can serve as a hidden mechanism for increased awareness, but that is only when posts do not slack on going beyond just the surface.

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