Activism on an Instagram feed. (Image courtesy of Sara Offer)
Crossroads School

Opinion: The questionable efficacy of social media activism

Within the last few years, there has been a dramatic rise in the use of social media platforms to advocate for social justice and political opinions. This was popularized during the #MeToo movement, with 19 million tweets attached to the hashtag.

During summer 2020, when a police officer brutally murdered George Floyd, Americans became outraged: creating the Black Lives Matter movement which spread an immense wave of social media activism.

There are more than 27 million Instagram posts that use the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This movement continued throughout the 2020 presidential election.

People have consistently voiced their views on other social issues such as the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, sexual assault and class inequity. 

Social media activism has successfully shed light on many pressing issues, spread awareness globally and became the foundation of many productive movements.

One of the most influential aspects of this mode of activism is the potential to share petitions on a major scale. In 2020, the petition “Justice for Breonna Taylor” received unprecedented attention on social media, resulting in 11.4 million signatures, which lead to the abolition of “no-knock” warrants nationwide.

Social media has allowed young people who are legally not of age to vote or directly participate in political processes to engage with current-day political issues. It provides them the opportunity to get inspired and involved: voicing their opinions and educating themselves.

The Biden administration owes their success in the 2020 presidential election to the younger generation of voters, who enlightened their peers on the importance of voting through platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat.  

That being said, it is important to bear in mind that misinformation is rampant among posts regarding social justice. Social media activism can come in many forms, and the reposting of colorful infographics is a very popular format of advocacy.

More often than not, these posts have not been fact-checked, and users blindly trust any account that appears to align with their views. As this form of activism prevails, users create an echo chamber, posting opinions that are only viewed by their like-minded friends.

This has created the unfortunate consequence of “virtue signaling” and performative activism, in which people disingenuously take advantage of activism as a way to gain appreciation and validation from peers.

This raises the question: how productive is social media activism? Do the pros outweigh the cons?