The Black Square Syndrome: Are You Doing More Harm Than Good with Social Media Activism?
- Instead of sharing posts full of buzzwords and brutal violence, strive to make a difference with your social media activism.
As seen with trends such as the Black Square on #blackouttuesday and the constant reposting of content on Instagram, Gen Z individuals have been extremely active on social media “activism” as of late. With the increasing visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, there are many that are attempting to educate themselves and their peers about issues of social injustice by reposting informational resources, petitions, particularly on Instagram, yet the majority only participate when they find it convenient or trendy.
While the Black Square trend may have begun with good intentions, most people only posted this as they felt obliged to due to social pressure, not because they had any interest in being anti-racist or educating others. Beyond this, most posted this square with the incorrect hashtag blocking educational material from people that actually wanted to learn about the cause and make a difference. This completely blocked out the feed for the Black Lives Matter hashtag and made it difficult for any protestors to find resources. After Blackout Tuesday, most of the people that participated in this trend went back to posting their beach pictures the next day, completely disregarding the gravity of this issue and failing to take time to reflect on the state of our nation.
Another danger comes in misinformation and the reposting of content from sources that are exploiting movements like Black Lives Matter. In the instance of Black Lives Matter protests, many white supremacist groups organized fake protests and spread information about them on platforms like Facebook, in an attempt to lure and attack those that support Black Lives Matter. Without doing research about the organizers of the protest, many spread this information on social media, putting themselves and other peaceful protestors at risk.
Beyond this physical danger, many people repost information from sources that are not trustworthy and take advantage of the movement for personal gain, monetary or attention. A notable figure who does this is Shaun King. Boasting over 3.6 million followers on Instagram, King has become the primary source of information for many people when it comes to causes of racial justice. He frequently reposts resources and tweets from other, less notable activists without giving them any credit, claiming them as his own thoughts and work.
Beyond this example of plagiarism, he continues to raise money from his large follower base through false promises, such as stating that he will use the money to make Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, The North Star, an online publication. Most recently, King has come under fire for using the death of actor Chadwick Boseman to promote the sale of his book. With regard to his surface level “activism” for personal gain, many organizers and members of Black Lives Matter wrote a letter on Medium in 2019. This letter, titled “A Community Word About Shaun King: #SitDownShaun,” discusses a range of issues with King’s platform and how he is not doing anything to truly help the Black community.
Further harm is done to oppressed individuals in the reposting of Black death. In sharing videos of a Black person being shot or killed on social media, many believe that they are spreading awareness of issues like police brutality, but in reality, these recurring images further traumatize members of the Black community, further depleting their mental health.
These shared videos, much like public lynching in the past, scare BIPOC individuals into submission, causing them to fear speaking out against oppression and racial injustice. Instead of sharing the first triggering video that pops up on your feed just because everyone else is too, take a moment to contemplate how this will affect your Black followers who view this video and how this will further traumatize them.
Instead of sharing these posts full of buzzwords and brutal violence, strive to make a difference with your social media activism. Share resources, ways to take action in your community, Black-owned businesses in your city, and uplift the voices of Black activists fighting for justice. Beyond this, take time to consume literature by Black authors, watch documentaries such as “13th” by Ava DuVernay, and participate in meaningful discussions to become actively anti-racist. Work to help others educate themselves and take time to do all you can in your community to dismantle systemic racism.
Ishani Peddi is a senior at Starr’s Mill High School in Peachtree City, Georgia. Born and raised in Southern California, she moved to Georgia last year. She has been writing as long as she can remember and published a fictional work in middle school. A passionate poet, who has won numerous literary competitions, Ishani is involved in various clubs and organizations within her school and community. She is the Communications Director for the Georgia High School Democrats, the Vice President of the Starr’s Mill High School Young Democrats, the Secretary of the Young Democrats of Georgia AAPI Caucus, a Civil Air Patrol Cadet, a Fellow at the Democratic Party of Georgia, and an AAPIs for Biden Intern, to name a few.