By: Isadora Li

September 14, 2020

Performative Activism in the Age of Technology


The age of technology brings with it a new wave of societal pressures teens feel the need to adhere to. One of these pressures is the expectation to post on social media about issues such as Black Lives Matter, in order to appear genuine. Performative activism is done in an attempt to gain personal clout and often without true intentions to further movements’ goals.

Blackout Tuesday is a widely known example of performative activism. Its original intent was to show support to BLM by stopping the release of new music, productions, and other forms of entertainment with celebrities including  Rihanna and Britany Spears posting images of a black square with the tag #blackouttuesday. The goal was sincere, however many used it as a way to show their support to BLM without any plans to do more to help. The posting even went as far to be harmful to protesters. When one of these posts were tagged with BLM or anything other than Blackout Tuesday, it hid information used to direct people to donation sites, protester needs, and real time information related to the demonstrations.

Posting on social media by the younger generations is often fueled by the threat of being seen as a non-supporter among peers. Amid the most common of performative acts are Instagram story posts. Many materials reposted are videos of racist attacks and information on the perpetrators of these acts. Others include information on how to go about educating the general population about America’s systemic racism. Depending on the source material, the posts often are helpful in educating those searching for ways to learn more. What these posts can’t accomplish however, are changing the minds of those who hold racist ideologies. In this way, posting videos of attacks is counterproductive. 

    Acts such as posting in an attempt to show support for a cause are often done because one cannot think of any other means of activism. Younger generations often want to contribute but have no way to donate to organizations, attend rallies, or gather supplies. Posting on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter allow for easier ways to participate in what many are doing. 

    Despite what people think at first glance, there are ways of demonstrating support when you can't contribute physically. There are many videos on Youtube that can be found which donate money to causes through ads. Contacting legislators via emails or phone is also an impactful way to emphasize the importance of an issue. The impact of signing petitions is widely debated, however petitions are used in determining public interest and are often efficient when they prompt the signer into additional action, such as contacting legislators. 

Social media has the potential to feign change when in reality, more is needed. Spreading information is an important first step towards revolution, but donating, educating, and correcting past behavior and mindsets have a larger impact. Black Lives Matter and racism is not something to be watered down by teenagers’ desire to fit in. Genuinely advocating towards accountability from institutions that systemically oppress BIPOC is more than merely posting on social media. Real change is beyond what appears on the screen and involves commitment to the cause.