“I can’t believe nobody’s talking about this!!??” If you have social media, chances are you’ve seen countless Instagram stories and posts about some world crisis, political event, or natural disaster with this caption. In fact, you’ve probably liked or posted a similar message, considering the appalling world we live in today. The widespread culture of reposting clips and screenshots in order to “spread awareness” is helpful in certain situations, but oftentimes can be worse than doing nothing.
What is social media activism? It’s reposting a clip of the Amazon Rainforest burning without adding a link of where to donate, get more information, or learn about who is affected. It’s being “shocked and angry” about something President Trump said, but not voting, petitioning senators, or educating yourself in preparation for the 2020 election.
If the content posted references actual ways to help, or asks for something (signing a petition, a donation, participating in a protest), then reposting could be helpful. But don’t stop there. Don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of feeling like you have officially taken action, and can therefore relax. If you are truly passionate about the issue, which many students at Berkeley High School have shown time and time again, go a step further! Would more people donate to the GoFundMe link if you sent it out directly to your parent’s friends? Can you campaign or volunteer for the 2020 candidate you feel most confident in?
A study in the Journal of Sociological Science showed that the majority of people who follow or like a Facebook page for a cause don’t actually donate. In one case, a page had over 1 million followers, but less than 3,000 of them actually donated to the cause.
Yes, some will say that social media culture is still good for raising awareness, but oftentimes awareness isn’t going to solve the problem. Getting the entire student body to know that something horrible is happening should not be considered an accomplishment. Getting students to raise money, call senators, or enact real meaningful change, on the other hand, is impressive. Just because you know something terrible is happening doesn’t mean you are actively solving the problem. The danger with this reposting culture is that people feel like they have done their part after they repost. Sharing something powerful doesn’t mean you can sit back and leave it to be someone else’s problem.
So the next time you are tempted to repost a powerful video or photo calling attention to an issue, think about how you can actually help the cause. Instead, have a conversation with your peers or family, and think of specific things you could do to help. You may not get labeled as an Instagram activist, but maybe that’s a good thing.