An increase in media activism has spurred among students but many have worries about performative activism
If you’ve been on Instagram the past couple months, you may have noticed an increase in images, infographics, petitions, and more featured on peoples’ stories. They spread awareness on different issues from systemic racism to fracking. Each with a goal in mind to raise awareness and create change. Megha Govindu (11), a student interested in social issues and shares posts on Instagram to raise awareness, describes how she views activism.
“The goal of activism is to just mobilize as many people as possible to combat injustices that we see. Because we live in a country where there’s a lot of power dynamics going on. Where specifically, white men have a lot of the power in this country and they’re overrepresented in our government, and they’re the people of power, the people that are making all these policies. And so it’s really difficult for ordinary quote unquote ‘people like us’ to change things” Govindu says.
Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, people are not allowed to gather and protest. So, a different form of activism has risen during the pandemic — media activism. Kavin Goyal (11), the president of American’s Bay Area Student Activists (BAStA) shares the benefits of media activism. Currently, BAStA is uniting students online to discuss the district’s SRO issue and to assess the situation and bring change.
“Our reach, despite us being at home is still the same if not greater, I think because people are on social media they’re seeing posts. People can hop on a zoom call and talk about issues that affect them. If officers need to have a meeting, we don’t need to schedule a meeting to organize, organize in the school premises, we could just hop on a Zoom meeting, and I think that’s a lot of people to discover those avenues for organizing, I think it will allow for even larger coalitions in the future.”
Govindu shares her thoughts about why there has been an increase in media activism besides just being in quarantine.
“People are starting to realize how prevalent of an issue racism is in our country as well as other issues, and there’s just generally more education and more dispersion of information so more and more people are becoming educated because of the virtual environment as well. And also with recent like political events, Trump’s presidency, the Capitol Hill riots, more and more people are starting to take an interest in these issues, I think those are all contributing factors.” Govindu says.
Because of these prevalent issues, an American High School group made up of around 7 students, created “The For You Project.” It is an Instagram account dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and oher current issues in the form of infographics. Tanvi Vidyala, a sophomore who is a part of “The For You Project,” also describes why media activism is important to students today.
“[During] the Black Lives Matter protests, around that time, I feel like it all kind of surged, As students, we really want to use our voices. There’s not a lot we can do right now, because we can’t really vote, but it’s good to keep informed. Social media is a widespread thing among us so we’re able to share lots of information and kind of gain information from what we see. So I guess spreading good information and factual information is always a must. So I think that’s why people like sharing those little exact tidbits and things like that,” Vidyala says.
However, reposting or sharing stories with infographics have also received backlash as some can be considered performative activism. Activism which one posts for the popularity and trend rather than the purpose of creating change.
“There’s a difference between performative activism and actually expressing useful information online. I think performative posts, that I also unknowingly may have done, are like those infographics that don’t really provide any information, they kind of make a statement or because so many people are posting them you’re posting them” Govindu explains.
Govindu also shares how performative activism can be harmful to the causes they are supporting.
“I think it’s important that initially it was great that people were like mass posting because you should definitely raise awareness, but it can get really repetitive and people are saying the same thing over and over in their feeds people.They’re desensitized to what’s going on and it’s true like there’s so many issues like if I had a drop of water for every societal issue there was that we needed to solve I have an ocean, you know like that expression,” Govindu says.
Besides just desensitizing their audience, mass posting and performative activism can also take away from important voices as explains.
“Around last June with the Black Lives Matter, it seemed a lot like a trend. You know the posting of those black squares, it became more of a social trend, and people were focusing more on just spreading the message and they kind of lost sight of what the original point of it,” Vidyala says.
Goyal also had similar thoughts about the black squares; however, also feels that it is not entirely the posters’ fault.
“Performers themselves, the people who are just reposting these posts are just doing what’s convenient to them. That what they’re seeing is making change or changing the narrative, they are somewhat convinced that what they’re doing is actually like making some sort of change in the world which it certainly could be. It’s not really their fault, but rather it’s the effect of the platform itself. You build social media communities around it. And so in some ways I almost want to blame it more on the fast uncontrollable spread of info of the platform itself, not necessarily the people. I think I would much rather have people repost stuff. Then, right, because then at least everyone knows about the issue and then your job is to make sure people actually act on it.”
Another huge part of media activism has also been petitions from websites like change.org. Amanda Mustafic, the Deputy Communications Director at change.org shares how petitions have become more popular through media activism.
“Petitions are a form of democracy – an online gathering that allows everyday people to speak out about the things they care about, whether it’s about a national issue like COVID-19 safety in the workplace, bringing back a favorite food or TV show, or an issue that affects their local community. Especially in this time where in-person gathering is limited, online activism can be a way for people to safely connect over the causes that matter most to them.”
There is no doubt about the impact Change.org has had through the Black Lives Matter Movements, providing a space for activists to raise awareness and show solidarity against society’s issues. Petitions are a great way to express and uphold democracy. Besides just Change.org petitions, which anyone can create for just about anything, there are also government platforms for petitions as well for more political changes on a more national level. However, students also have doubts about the impact of the petitions and whether or not sharing them is performative activism.
“I actually don’t think change.org petitions are effective, but there are definitely other types of petitions that are effective. It’s important to not post change.org petitions unless you know that they’re going to change something. There’s been a lot of controversy around that the first thing is performance to post petitions, [of course] not necessarily, but you should definitely do your research into what the position of what the petition is impacting before you repost it.” Govindu says.
Goyal however, has a different approach and believes that while there are doubts the petitions can be a great way to show support.
“Change our.org is a great example of the risks, I see with media activism. Because change.org founders, I remember shared the statement later saying ‘we are not explicitly and are showing support for the Black Lives Matter Movement, we’re just a platform for people to sign petitions on things they care about right.’ And so it shows that it shows that risk of performative activism right, you put your name on there but are you ready to you know embrace the consequences? I feel like with the ease of signing these petitions, there is the additional risk that what you’re signing becomes less and less important to you because things just go by quicker and quicker. So that’s the only caution I would put on it, but I think petitions have come to great uses at times,” Goyal says.
Goyal also believes that local issues differ from nationwide issues and the way people create change is also different because of communities.
“I think at the local level we’ve avoided petitions because we’ve seen that risk of performance and we know that it doesn’t invite the best community engagement. But at the national level we know that petitions to get justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, have been helpful,” Goyal shares.
Of course, everyone promotes and supports their ideas in different ways and media activism is a great place to start as long as students recognize the dangers of it. Social media is a great thing with the speed and access to information, but it is always important that people understand what they are posting.