By Nisha Singhi (‘24)
This story is likely a very common one. We scroll through Instagram and start tapping through peoples’ stories. Then, we see those certain Instagram or Snapchat story posts that circulate every month: “each repost is $0.01 that helps save this baby elephant” with a picture just disturbing enough to grab our attention. Now, I’m not saying that the intent of these posts is irrelevant or unhelpful; the individual or organization is likely trying to spread awareness around a problem occurring in the world at that moment. However, I have recently come to believe that posting about issues in general is actually extremely counter-productive for the reasons provided further on.
Oftentimes, there is a process that we go through whenever we are deciding whether or not to repost a story about any issue. We see the story on someone else’s account and maybe even click on the post with a more detailed description of the issue and how reposting would help. That’s likely where we stop doing our research into the issue. Then, there are a few reasons that we would decide to post. One, we feel sympathy for the cause; two, we want to uphold a certain reputation to our followers; or three, we feel pressure from others. This process is not inherently flawed, but it isn’t actually helping solve the issue.
As stated above, our research into an issue that is circulating throughout Instagram is usually not extensive. Most of the time, we understand the generics of the problem and where it is taking place, but that’s all. It is a very superficial show of support: that we are just posting, but not really doing anything about the problem (in some cases, there isn’t much else we can do, but in most others, there are). With these posts, it is evident that our knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep. There is a term for this that has been coined fairly recently: slacktivism, which refers to the social media posts that try to draw attention to an issue but just through a picture, hashtag, or trend. A recent research paper proves (and as the Washington Post explains) that public shows of support for an issue (most recognizable, social media posts) lead to more slacktivism and a less significant impact on the problem. The paper states, “Consumers exhibit greater helping on a subsequent, more meaningful task after providing an initial private (vs. public) display of token support for a cause” (Kristofferson et al).
Furthermore, the medium of showing support (social media) has its own drawbacks. Let’s say you repost that heart-wrenching story. In twenty-four hours, the post isn’t even visible on your profile. In a single day, people will forget that you posted in support of that issue and like that story disappears from your Instagram profile, it will inevitably disappear from your mind as well. So, did that post really help solve the problem? Essentially, we tried to solve a very complex, long-term problem in the shortest possible way. Social media posts are diminishing the importance of a colossal issue, by making it the question of whether to repost or not instead of focusing on the problem itself. According to Pew Research, “Roughly eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say the statement ‘social media distract people from issues that are truly important’ describes social media very or somewhat well, while a similar share (76%) say the same about the statement ‘social media make people think they are making a difference when they really aren’t’” (Auxier and McClain).
Many people will say that social media helps draw attention to the issue; it is a tool that connects people all across the world and spreads information quickly. I completely agree that reposting posts does plant a seed in the viewer’s minds that the issue exists, however, they usually don’t encourage people to get involved beyond reposting the story.
So, how about we start taking meaningful, fulfilling steps to solve a problem instead of trying to shortcut our way around it? I’m not saying that we need to go out and try to change the world every single day, but at least for the problems where we can, we should take baby steps to make a positive contribution in a more meaningful way than just posting on social media. It is true that “a huge gap exists between posting a hashtag and joining community action” (Fu, The Register Forum), but we can all bridge that gap in a collective effort. Let’s start taking more initiative to be hands-on in helping solve an issue and change the world through both social media and action with others.
This piece began with an interesting yet relatable hook that drew us in. The choice of topic, though not a direct factor in our judgement, was interesting and the writing reflected the youthful perspective of the author in a way that sheds light on how young people manifest activism. The critique is subtle, yet at the same time nuanced. In doing so, the author addresses conflicting perspectives and presents a compelling call to action. We are truly excited to read more from this author and learn from their unique voice.