Putting the active in activism: Stop reposting and start reacting

Putting the active in activism: Stop reposting and start reacting

Liliana Greyf

A few months ago, during the horrifying wildfires in Australia, Instagram was filled with fake accounts claiming to be donation sites. “Put this photo on your story and we will donate one meal to the baby animals affected by the virus,” they said. “Like this photo and we will give a baby koala some breakfast.” Fine—maybe I am exaggerating and their statements weren’t quite so clearly falsified for publicity. Nevertheless, it was clear that the work these people were doing was in no way honest. It was shocking how many of my peers simply went along with this scam. There were no second thoughts, no examinations of validity. I questioned my peers, whose accounts glittered with falsehoods. “How were the meals being delivered? Why breakfast?” Responses were often demonstrative of gullibility. They retorted with arguments about the importance of awareness and education. While I agree that the spread of information is necessary, reposting on your Instagram story is not the way to create change.


Currently, social media is swamped with campaigns that aim to educate about and fight against COVID-19. Rather than attempting to find factual statistics from trusted reporting outlets such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many of my peers have taken to following these accounts. The twitter account @stump_politics recently tweeted a seemingly positive statistic that the death rate of coronavirus, once assumed to be 1.38 percent, had now fallen to 0.66 percent. While this post may be an attempt at encouragement and optimism, the statistic has no proof, and the CDC warns against these attempts at classification. The CDC has a notice on their website that states that they do “not know the exact number of COVID-19 illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths for a variety of reasons.” It is impossible to truly gauge the death rate of the disease as of now, and false statistics can be dangerous during a pandemic. 

A post that lacks specificity, or even validity, will do nothing to convince the few people on your Instagram that disagree with your beliefs. In fact, a well-intentioned post with an interesting argument, even if proved slightly untrue, can embarrass the school of thought it pertains to. On April 26, the Instagram account @angryasianfeminist posted about Vietnam’s success in battling the coronavirus. It claimed that there has not been a single death in Vietnam due to the coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak. The post is captioned “good for vietnam! we need to do better!” After simple research, the reason for Vietnam’s safety becomes apparent. An article titled “How Vietnam is winning its ‘war’ on coronavirus,” published by DW News, explains the rigorous regimes of the Vietnamese government in order to ensure the health of its inhabitants. The article explains that “security officials or Communist Party spies can be found on every street and crossing in every neighborhood and in every village. The military is also deploying soldiers and materiel in the fight against coronavirus.” In addition, the country has placed strict tracking technologies on every citizen. I find it disheartening that such skewed evidence is used to prove their points because this type of inaccuracy can lead those who disagree with reasonable claims to have false proof of their now seemingly unreliable argument.


During these unprecedented and turbulent times, social media is more than a way to find solace and connection. The panic surrounding the virus and its spread creates an urgent need for a public and easily accessible source of information. This outlet is most commonly found in social media. As we keep up with the often falsified media provided on these popular accounts, it is tempting to repost and share the information that we find. This thoughtless, carefree act is irresponsible, yet it creates feelings of fulfillment and gratification. It is easy to feel as if this effortless act has made a difference—we want to believe that the actions we take, no matter how small, have an impact on those who view them: in this case, our followers. 


Youth on social media are not the only individuals found at fault for purposeless and harmful attempts at political engagement on social media. A YouTube video posted by CBS News titled “25 celebrities sing ‘Imagine’ in isolation, creating a moving montage” received 58,000 dislikes. While the celebrities sing clips of the song in what was displayed as an emotional video montage, people on the frontlines of the disease are ill and dying. Instead of using their resources, popularity, and wealth, these performers chose to record ten-second clips on their phones. The comments on the post presented the anger of its viewers. An unnamed YouTube user commented “People: Literally dying. [/] Celebrities: ‘Imagine there’s no heaven.’” This video is an example of the uninformed, futile attempts at change over digital media; although well-intentioned, it is unproductive and even harmful.


Often, when I express my distaste with this form of political discussion, supporters of this form of activism tell me that social media is the most important way for us to make a change in today’s digital world. In some ways, I agree— #MeToo would not have happened without the hashtag; the Women’s March would not have taken place without organization on Twitter; you cannot run a successful presidential campaign today without an enthusiastic group of Instagram followers. Sometimes, it really is important to bring awareness to a wide audience that is easily influenced by their phones. Urging people to vote, or to practice social distancing, is most successfully carried out on social media. Many successful youth-led climate movements, such as Zero Hour and XR Youth, have not just taken to social media to spread their message; rather, they have also published articles, organized marches, spoken to representatives, and provided resources to fight for climate justice. While social media is an important part of the groups’ organizing, their posts are only a fraction of their impact.


In the midst of the pandemic, it is important to acknowledge that resources for activism are limited. Those who want to create change are not able to physically protest and financial resources are often more restricted than before the pandemic. At this time, technology may be the only source of connection with the communities wanted to reach. There are still ways to use the internet, and even social media, to be active in politics. After reading and educating oneself about a topic (more than reading a single Instagram post), I encourage people to write what they are thinking. Reach out to editors of newspapers, contact organizations and movements you are passionate about, and discuss what you have found with peers one-on-one. Question the posts you see; don’t let them quickly fool you. 


The limitations of the pandemic provide social media users with the ability to change the way activism on social media operates. In the midst of the virus, I urge us all to use that ability to our advantage— instead of believing that you are making a change by highlighting uninformed opinions, use proven and interesting information to create knowledgeable conclusions. Do not take the easy way out. Take the time to educate yourself and your community through more than an Instagram story. If you feel passionate about a cause, don’t let the simple, false feelings of reward take over the opportunity to make meaningful change.