My generation and I, for better or worse, have grown up with access to the internet at our fingertips. Our phones and social media are such predominant and defining traits among us. Especially, within the wake of the pandemic, it’s how we all still manage to stay in touch so well. Obviously, the internet and social media can be harmful and has many flaws. However, there is one aspect that piques my interest: activism on social media. At least for as long as I’ve been on social media platforms, I’ve seen these “trends” of activism come and go. These trends include “canceling” creators because of a controversial comment, people changing profile pictures, and collectively reposting posts on our stories. Up until rather recently, online activism has had trouble keeping momentum.
Despite these past failed attempts, in the wake of the recent protests, the true power of the internet is coming to light. I think one of the main reasons the internet has so much power is its representation and accessibility. Social media isn’t held back by systems of oppression in the same way traditional media is. Kids my age and younger have access to discover and follow people who look, talk, love, pray, and live like them. Though I don’t have much comparison to what times we’re like before, I can tell that we’ve never seen intersectional representation like this before. That in itself is already so powerful.
Compared to traditional media, social media seems rather unfiltered, however, there is still an immense amount of censorship. For example, TikTok is rather infamous for suppressing the videos and content of black creators on the app. In response, Lex Scott, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, organized an app-wide protest. The protest, called the Blackout, was held on May 19th to commemorate Malcolm X’s birthday. People were urged to change their profile pictures, follow, like and share the videos of Black creators and use the hashtag #blackvoicesheard. Overall, it was very successful, and another Blackout has been planned for Juneteenth. Personally, my “for you page” (the videos recommended based on user’s activity) has never seen so much diversity before, and I’m not ashamed to say I was on the app for most of the day because of it. I’m not sure about others, but my “for you page” has been diverse since and I’m loving it. But why was the Blackout on TikTok affective compared to other attempts at activism on the internet?
When it comes to things like cancel culture, it has become not about bringing light to the issue at hand, but more about this fight about who’s most woke. Calling others out and changing your profile picture for a couple of days is. not. activism. These actions have become more about keeping up with everyone else’s standard of “wokeness” rather than actually creating change. These methods don’t provoke people to be uncomfortable and don’t spark a conversation. It is pivotal that a movement makes people question themselves, their privilege, and the others around them for a personal level change. Movements like the Blackout not only affected individuals’ “for you page,” but it also affected the app as a whole. Trending hashtags and profile pictures don’t grab a company’s attention in the same way a dramatic shift in demographics would.
We are currently seeing a huge shift in the way we use social media to our advantage. I think with time we will soon be able to translate the change we create beyond the screen. So, if you have TikTok, I urge you to participate in the Redout, for the Indigenous community on TikTok, on June 5th, as well as the second Blackout to come. There are other resources you can also find online in order to spark some change like signing online petitions, and call and text hotlines. You can also text FLOYD to 55156 and call 612-348-5550 to put pressure on the district attorney to further charge the officers who murdered George Floyd, as well as sign the petition on Change.org.
Belén is a high school sophomore.
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