Thousands participate in the All Black Lives Matter solidarity march along Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood on June 14, 2020. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)


Opinion: Performative activism in the Black Lives Matter movement

While promoting social issues online can benefit the cause, it can also lead to the spread of misinformation or incorrectly portray the movement's message.
<a href="" target="_self">Maddie Sapra</a>

Maddie Sapra

September 20, 2022
With the rise of social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter now serving as a platform for social justice and political movements, it gives an opportunity for dangers such as performative activism.

Performative activism takes place when one pretends to support or care for a cause because it is viewed as “trendy” at the time. And while using social media as a way to promote a movement or cause can be very beneficial, it also very easily leads to the spread of misinformation or incorrectly portraying the message that the movement is trying to convey.

Typically, those who are spreading information don’t do so intentionally, they see an aesthetically pleasing Instagram post that covers the basic concept of something they support. So, to show they support the cause they will upload it to their Instagram story, without having informed themselves of the actual meaning or validity of the information they are spreading. I am in complete support of using social media as a way to spread opinions and information, however, you have to have intention and knowledge behind it. 

One of the most prominent examples of performative activism was during the “Black Out Tuesday” movement. “Black Out Tuesday” was a way of showing one’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement on Instagram by posting a black square with the caption #BlackLivesMatter.

I need to start off by saying, I am not a member of the Black community, so it is not my place to comment on the movement, but after speaking to various members of the community, “trends” such as “Black Out Tuesday” had negative impacts on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Through these conversations, I was able to educate and inform myself about the reasons behind the harm, and believe it should be a conversation that is more widely held. While most people participating in Black Out Tuesday did so in good spirits, showing their great support for the movement, what they didn’t realize was that posting millions of black squares under the Black Lives Matter hashtag made it very difficult to find actual resources to support the movement.

On top of this, the majority of the people I saw posting black squares on Black Out Tuesday never so much as to spread actual information and resources, attended local rallies, donated to foundations that supported the black community, or even went simply as far as to educate themselves. It disappoints me to see that people pretend to support a cause because they think it makes them look good on social media, even though they don’t know or care enough about the cause to find ways that actually help. 

Now in, absolutely no way do I think that if someone posted a black square or a different trend such as this they contributed to performative activism, however, those who did it without another thought towards the Black Lives Matter Movement actually did more harm than good.

As stated earlier, the millions of black squares posted overtook the BLM hashtag, which was used as a great resource for members of the black community to share their stories, or for foundations that supported the cause to be seen. I genuinely do applaud anyone for trying to get involved and spread information for a cause they care about, however before you post information or participate in a “trend,” I very much encourage you to educate yourself about the information you are spreading.

Also, educating yourself doesn’t mean just reading textbooks! A great way to get information on a cause you want to learn more about is by talking to a member of the community that you are supporting and attempting to learn more about the history of the cause and how it affects their personal lives. This way you can support the causes you believe in by forming your own opinions based on accurate and viable information, and you can relay this information to make social media safer and more reliable.

For those who are not Black, one insightful blog post to learn how to be a good ally to the Black Lives Matter cause is titled “Note to self: White people taking part in #BlackLivesMatter protests” published in the American Friends Service Committee.