Instagram Activism – Student Opinions / Performative activism or genuine political action?

Story by Max Fisher

Last year, as protests swept the country, advocating for an end to police brutality and racial equity in America, Instagram was plastered with political content created by young people. Content posted contained everything from informational messages about current events to fiery opinions from both sides of the political spectrum. Now it seems that you can’t spend longer than a minute on Instagram without encountering some political content. We all know the posts. Often it’s a post with multiple pages, providing facts and commentary about a controversial topic or political issue ranging from defunding thepoliceto abortion rights, all with a perfectly curated aesthetic design.

According to a 2021 Harvard Youth Poll, political participation is up among young Americans compared to past generations. Today 36%of Americans aged 18-29 years old are politically active compared to 24%from 12 years ago. The same poll reports that one-third of respondents said that politics had gotten in the way of a friendship for them. Ultimately, politics is increasingly seeping into the personal lives of young people and social media is one of the most significant ways to track this increase in political participation among young people.

An issue that has arisen following the increase of political content on social media is whether these posts should be considered “performative activism”. Performative activism is when a person posts something with the intention of increasing popularity or follower-ship rather than engaging in genuine political action. In other words, many critics have accused Instagram activists of posting political content to appear politically active rather than actually participating in politics in real life.

Jeff High students have many different opinions on Instagram political activism. Sophomore Elle Marble says she doesn’t post political content on her story, and she feels most of the time posting is more about virtue signaling, or superficially displaying moral character, rather than changing minds, “That [posting political information] doesn’t lead to people changing their mindsets or views. So the only goal you end up achieving is showing people where you stand.”

Senior Justus Bowman says she will post on Instagram whenever something is important and needs to be shared, but she also expressed some criticism about using Instagram for political activism. “It allows people to post and share content but it can sometimes lead to activism stopping at the post,” Bowman said.

Mirroring the current political climate in America, there is no consensus among users on how to appropriately post political content on social media. However, as political participation continues to trend younger and social media continues to impact politics, the debate over how to use Instagram for political activism will certainly continue to be an issue.

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