The murder of George Floyd led to an explosion of online activism, particularly amongst young people. New accounts were formed with the sole purpose of explaining issues of institutional racism to their audiences, infographics popped up everywhere, and everything from videos to petitions to GoFundMe campaigns were shared widely. Now, one year after George Floyd’s murder and the movement that his death sparked, we asked our Youth Advisory Board give us a sense of what online activism looks like today for young people.
Like Everything, Social Media Activism Has Its Positives and Negatives, Risks and Rewards
One year after a peak in social media activism, the members of our Youth Advisory Board are fully aware of the mixed bag that can oftentimes be online activism.
“I think George Floyd’s murder made me realize the huge impact social media can have on people when it is used in both productive and unproductive ways. George Floyd’s murder sparked an amazing worldwide movement that spread like wildfire via social media. For our generation, people’s posts brought a lot of instances of institutional racism to light, and the dialogue around necessary changes tremendously increased. The biggest negative, however, of the role social media played was the difficulty in differentiating those who genuinely possessed deep concern and wanted to make a difference with those who posted a black screen and thought that was sufficient. There is a large distinction between being not racist and being anti-racist.” – Rhea A.
“George Floyd’s murder showed me that when multiple people have a space (even if only virtual) to come together and fight for the same thing, unity and togetherness is beautiful. It also showed me a side of social media where people feel more comfortable being blatantly racist and disrespectful because of the shield the internet has.” – Amaiya A.
“After George Floyd’s murder, my view on social media changed when I realized that my use of the apps on my phone could contribute to fighting in an actual battle for justice. However, there were some negatives, for example the trauma POC face having to watch those of their race or ethnicity being brutally murdered by the police every day on their feeds. There was a lot of excess of performative activism as well, like people posting colorful and aesthetic infographics just to seem socially aware when their infographics gave no helpful information.” – Aanya V.
“It made me realize I should be speaking out for real issues, rather than discussing mindless things such as what I ate for breakfast. Seeing other people’s posts, the ones that were against Black Lives Matter, also made me really lose faith in a lot of my peers. Some of my friends would not post anything to help others or spread awareness about discrimination, and some even DM’ed me arguing about things as simple as basic human rights.” – Eden S.
“My view on social media is mixed. It is powerful in a way that it can help inform and uplift each other about social issues by spreading graphics and ways to support a cause. Yet, we still see how it brings each other down and causes conflict with one another. For example, I noticed that lots of people’s opinions were being voiced during George Floyd’s murder. There was debate about people’s conflicting thoughts about the situation, causing a polarized environment on social media.” – Angela R.
“The biggest negative, however, of the role social media played was the difficulty in differentiating those who genuinely possessed deep concern and wanted to make a difference with those who posted a black screen and thought that was sufficient. There is a large distinction between being not racist and being anti-racist.” – Rhea A.
Doom-Scrolling, Partisanship, and Performative Allyship
Sometimes though, the negatives of social media activism can outweigh the good.
“George Floyd’s death showed me that social media can be extremely partisan, and it’s easy to fall into doom-scrolling, with only one viewpoint being shown. It also brought about extraordinary peer pressure to share constantly about the situation on your Instagram stories.” – Hayden B.
“It made me see how quick people are to try and follow trends without caring about the actual meaning, like how my friends told me how people posted black squares on their Instagrams to show their support versus actually posting something useful. They also said that people reposted the same tweets that were circulating, which only cluttered their feeds and didn’t convey any meaning or give any helpful information on how to support Black Lives Matter or Black people in their communities. I think that this is just performative activism and completely unhelpful; people will just post anything to prove to others how politically correct they are. It’s frustrating because all of those useless posts probably took away from the Black people who actually had something to say.” – Priscilla P.
“Following the murder of George Floyd, I definitely noticed how powerful social media was. It’s an amazing platform for spreading awareness quickly, and can be used to inform and organize massive groups of people. On the flip side, though, that means it’s incredibly easy to spread misinformation and hate, so it’s very important to be a critical consumer. I think it’s also crucial that if one is truly dedicated to taking action on an issue, we make sure that action extends beyond spreading awareness/infographics on social media.” – Clara T.