The rise of social media has reshaped the landscape of activism, creating a forum with the power to spread information about injustices and mobilize people worldwide to fight against them. People can now use their accounts to share information with their followers about upcoming protests and fundraisers and invite them to answer the call to action. Now amidst civil unrest as people nationwide rise up to protest the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, it is more important than ever to demand justice in memory of Floyd and countless other black people who have died at the hands of the police. As people across the country exercise their right to protest, social media is being used to furiously share information about how others can show support and demand justice, whether it be calling the District Attorney, donating money, or showing up to a protest themselves.
Recently, however, there’s been a trend on social media where people “tag ten people who won’t break the chain” for Black Lives Matter on their Instagram stories. The idea is that people who are tagged show their support for the movement by tagging another ten people and so on and so forth to create a never-ending list of names. It appears to be built off the trend that started earlier in quarantine in which people randomly tagged five of their friends to continue a chain of people drawing their own version of an orange or some other fruit.
While this isn’t necessarily harming anyone, it isn’t really helping anyone either. Social media can be a crucial tool in the fight for social justice, but it can also be wasted on performative and ingenuine activism. If you’re reposting something just to check a box and say “at least I did something,” you may as well not have done it at all. You shouldn’t have to tag people to know that they support BLM, nor should you have to repost it to show your solidarity. Your support should speak for itself in what you post, but more importantly the tangible action toward supporting the cause.
Here are five things you can do in real life without posting about it to ensure that your activism doesn’t end after you hit “share.”
Go to a protest and don’t post about it. If you’re able to attend a protest without risking the health of your family, you should. Standing with black people at the front lines is a meaningful act of solidarity, but it means a lot less when you have your phone out the whole time, taking videos for your story instead of actively engaging with what is needed from you in that moment. Like any other event, you don’t have to post about it to have experienced it.
Posting or uploading photos and videos that show protesters’ faces is also endangering. Police are known to search social media for photos and videos from protests to identify people in the crowds and make arrests. This is why many are advised to cover their faces, wear shapeless clothes, and remove any piercings—so they can’t be identified.
In fact, you shouldn’t be posting about going to a protest at all if you can help it. A simple repost showing that you’re going to be at a certain protest can also be used to track you and the group with whom you are going. A safer option would be to screenshot the flyer with all the necessary information about a protest and directly text it to people. Chances are that the flyer is only relevant to people who are in the area that said protest is happening. To anyone else, it’s just another story to tap through or another post to scroll past. Do the work of messaging others personally when going to a protest, and protect each other by not advertising your attendance.
Donate supplies to protesters and don’t post about it. If there are protests happening in your area, the grassroots organizations organizing them will likely need supplies to sustain those that will be protesting. Oftentimes, these needs include face masks, gloves, and first-aid equipment among other things. Many are refraining from posting calls for supplies publicly out of safety reasons, since many often list an address where they can be dropped off. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do the work of reaching out to these organizations privately and offering your support, especially if you aren’t able to protest. A quick DM asking “what can I do to support you?” takes less than a minute to send. Chances are, you have something in your house that can be useful or at the very least, you can add some things to your grocery list to donate later.
When you drop off donations, don’t take any photos of where the drop-off point was, even if you mean to promote it to others, for the reasons listed in the previous point. Instead, repost guides on how people can protest safely and spread information about potential threats to their safety (i.e. warning undocumented people that ICE is storming a site of protest). Reach out to friends you know that are protesting and offer resources directly, such as letting them borrow your mask for the day if they don’t have one themselves.
Donate money to community organizations and don’t post about it. There are too many masterlists of fundraisers and community funds for you to not know where to give your money. Instead of posting a screenshot of your GoFundMe receipt, use social media to stay in tune with which groups need more or less support to ensure that your money goes to people who need it most. For example, some organizations have posted on social media asking people to direct money elsewhere because they have more than enough. Do your research on each fundraiser and organization and identify their individual needs; then, make an informed decision.
You can also take that GoFundMe screenshot and send it to group chats with your friends and family, asking them to match however much you donated.
Read and educate yourself on how to be anti-racist and don’t post about it. It’s very important to not rely on black people to educate you about racism when they are dying because of it. Don’t put the burden on them to perform that emotional labor of explaining things to you that are readily available on the internet. No matter how much of an ally you consider yourself, there’s always work to be done when it comes to your understanding of anti-blackness. Not being racist is not enough—you should be working every day to be anti-racist. Several reading lists are being circulated, encouraging nonblack folk to educate themselves about how they can be actively anti-racist in their daily lives, even if it means revisiting a history textbook.
Answer that call by sitting down with the words of black writers and scholars, especially now that many libraries are offering access to many of their materials online amidst the pandemic. Take the time to read, listen, and learn.
Send money to your black friends and don’t post about it. This is an extremely traumatic time for black people everywhere who have watched their own people die at the hands of police brutality and racism too many times. They are exhausted and tired and need care as they process devastating news. In addition to educating yourself and doing other work on your own, take this time to check in with your black friends and provide them with the emotional or financial support they need.
Direct them to wellness resources specifically tailored to black people. Consider sending someone some money so they can treat themselves to a coffee or anything else they decide is necessary to take care of themselves during this time. Hold space if you can to listen to or spend time with them. Offer what you’re able to, and reassure them that you’re there to help on their terms.
A good rule of thumb in distinguishing real activism from performative activism is to ask yourself one question: am I posting this because I want to spread awareness or because I want praise for something I should have already been doing?
More often than not, the second option is more accurate. You can easily share hundreds of posts without doing a single thing to actually contribute to the cause offline. Reposting does not replace the need for reparations. Doing nothing does harm. Doing nothing is political.
By Raven Yamamoto