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Opinion

Opinion: The rise of Instagram infographics: Performative or powerful?

Instagram activists reflect on the infographic industrial complex.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/ruchi10mangtani/" target="_self">Ruchi Mangtani</a>

Ruchi Mangtani

March 21, 2022
Everyone’s seen them — the light pink squares on your Instagram feed with colorful graphics and pleasing fonts, giving a brief explanation of the model minority myth or another social justice topic. It’s impossible to go onto Instagram without seeing at least one of the slide-show-style infographic posts, sharing snippets of information made easy to read for users. 

This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the “Infographic Industrial Complex,” describing the sharp rise in popularity of social justice infographics, or “Instagraphics.” In 1080 by 1080 squares, creators briefly describe an issue to Instagram users. Since the increasing awareness of police brutality catapulted many into a fight for social justice, social media has taken a key role in giving people a platform to stand for causes and prove they are an ally of change. 

Instagram infographics have faced heat from the public for being performative and misinforming. The viral Instagram infographic account @so.informed, previously known as @soyouwanttotalkabout, was criticized for copying Ijeoma Oluo’s best-selling book, “So You Want To Talk About Race,” and not giving adequate credit to contributors in her posts.

Jessica Natale, the owner of the account, was additionally denounced for using a slur in a post about the history of immigration. The post is now deleted.

“I just want my peace. And I want Black people to get credit where credit’s due, and I want white people to stop stealing,” Oluo said on Instagram TV.

According to @eve.ewing on Instagram, Instagram infographics can sometimes “oversimplify complex ideas in harmful or misleading ways.” Critics also argue that there is often a lack of transparency about who the creator behind the infographics is and what sources are used in making the posts, according to Refinery29.

With the potential danger of Instagram users taking every infographic they read at first glance with no further research, some worry about the dangers of people using this to spread fake news and misinformed opinions. 

JiJi Wong, the Instagram Manager of the Xīn Shēng Project, or @xinshengproject on Instagram, spoke to how Instagram users, a lot of the time, feel the need to be constantly advocating for something, often at the cost of not taking the time to understand what they are advocating for. This is seen with infographics asking viewers to call a number for U.S. intervention as well as the viral posting of the black square in 2020. 

“In the end, people want to help, but they’re not thinking about the consequences of their actions, nor are they thinking critically. They just are starting to mindlessly consume media online to the point that it’s so easy to push false narratives,” Wong said. 

Grace Fang, also from the Xīn Shēng Project, said that with social justice being intertwined with social media, the trauma of marginalized communities has been commodified for likes and reposts. 

In defense of “Instagraphics,” many infographic creators contend that infographics are helpful for those who are unable to access the technical jargon commonly used in research papers and books that may have the nuance Instagram infographics lack. 

“I just try and make sure that I’m posting stuff the way that is as accessible and inclusive as possible…I put slide text in the comments [and] I make sure to put image descriptions for people who may be hard of seeing. I’ve taken [various other measures] to ensure that as many people who want to access the information I put out can do so,” said Nic, also known as @nictheadvocate on Instagram. 

In comparison to the mainstream media, Instagram infographics are often a key alternative in showcasing more marginalized voices and education that may not be provided in schooling. 

Most Instagram accounts have less of a financial incentive in their work, unlike a news outlet, which may not talk about a certain topic due to concerns that it won’t be “newsworthy” or profitable, according to Sunnie Liu, a co-founder of the Xīn Shēng Project, and Nic. 

One of the creators behind the account @neurodivergentfairy who goes by Rebecca, said there may be greater fact-checking in a professional publication compared to Instagram infographics. 

When it comes to making progress in the social justice issues talked about in the infographics, many creators are less hopeful. Wong said Instagram infographics are able to provoke thinking and sometimes shift the political view of viewers, but always at the risk of accidentally absorbing misinformation or falling into an echo chamber.

Rebecca said that she probably hasn’t made copious amounts of tangible change through her account, but has gotten quite a bit of positive feedback from her neurodivergent followers that have thanked her for the representation. 

Instagram infographics are a double-edged sword in regards to making easily accessible, less biased information, while also facing the issue of misinformation. However, in a society that is rapidly increasing its reliance on online communication, social media may become the most effective tool for organizing and gathering support for a cause. 

“I think we all have our place in our advocacy, and this is the place I’ve chosen to occupy, and I’m comfortable with where I’m at,” Nic said.

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