One-click Activism: Performative Allyship Online

Social media has revolutionized how we interact with information and what information gets shared.

By Jess Zsiga

With so many emotionally charged tragedies happening in the past year, it’s natural for communities to cry out for change. Real allyship, or the support of critical social justice or human rights issues by non-marginalized individuals, has been found in the conversations between loved ones and with the entire world gone virtual, strangers on the internet.

Discussions have been the mark of progress, as groups are formed to combat serious issues like systemic racism, ableism, how best to defend democratic ideals, how best to keep our family and neighbors safe from COVID-19.

While the shift to virtual outreach has mostly been helpful with so many voices now joining together in support of critical issues, a new trend has risen online best known as “performative allyship.” This happens when non-marginalized individuals address an issue on their online platforms to appeal to the interest of their followers and to gain notoriety, rather than in true support of the topic.

These posts are viewed as one-click fixes by their authors, and aren’t directly helpful or supportive to the organization or issue they mention. It may seem like a good idea to boost an activist message wherever possible, but without any real research or knowledge of the issue, this kind of posting can easily lead to the spread of misinformation or even viewer fatigue as followers see the same graphics over and over without any context to the issue being addressed.

An instance of this occurred over the past summer when marches for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement were taking place. Individuals, beginning with many figures in the music industry, uploaded a black screen for #BlackoutTuesday on Instagram, which was said to be in support of of the BLM movement and protests against systematic racism in communities across the nation.

The hashtag went viral, with thousands of black screen photos being uploaded by individuals on Instagram. The volume of posts, however, resulted in vital information about safety measures at marches being buried amidst the hashtag, increasing danger for protesters in the streets. Despite many organizations reaching out on social media to attempt to discourage people from posting with hashtags including #BLM and others which were disrupting the flow of safety information, the posts persisted.

Performative ally-ship thrives off of encouragement from followers. Non-marginalized individuals may only share a post with the intent of gaining some form of online support (likes, comments, etc.) rather than in an effort to really lean into the mission of it. More often than not, people re-post messages to appear “woke” — an effort to portray one’s self as socially and politically knowledgeable about an issue. This trait is highly respected in our polarized society — and is dangerous to the support of critical issues.

If individuals want to invest themselves in aiding crises affecting their communities, sharing a graphic or post online can’t be used as the easy way out. People have to assume a role of responsibility over the information that they share online.

This has to focus on getting educated about issues — finding information from the source, rather than from a coworker’s Facebook post or old friend’s Instagram story. Only share information that you’re sure is correct and not just widely circulated, because they aren’t the same thing. Act with your wallet in situations that you feel strongly about, whenever you can. Follow the lead of the organizations spearheading the issues and assist their efforts where possible.

True support of organizations and their mission is the best aid in getting more factual resources being disseminated on the internet. In our high-speed world, it would probably take you less than 10 minutes to gather some background info on an issue and step up to make a change — and all of that can still be done from the comfort of your living room.

If you’re at a loss for ways to step up, you can always ask. Social media activism fortunately provides an outstanding paper trail that is typically chock-full of potential resources. Real activism requires effort beyond just the push of a button — you might have to press four or five!

It has never been easier to become involved in fighting for our communities, but it means we must be active allies.

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