When the Wrong Thing Goes Viral
I wake up with the sun. So the past few days, I wake up a little before 6, go back to sleep for an hour and wake up at 8 to watch Good Morning America. This morning while I watched the news I started working on my long list of resources I’m compiling for people interested in doing something in support of black lives matter. In an attempt to stay awake I started checking social medias and I saw a lot of posts on instagram of people posting black screens. Many were tagged with the blacklivesmatter hashtag. I knew that a few things were going around last night, like the music industry having a blackout day to refrain from posting/promoting artists to help amplify black voices and make action plans. I also know that the black lives matter hashtag is often used for resources and sharing important information, so I sent my friends a text that they should change the hashtag. When I told my friends they should change it, I started to explain that the “blackout day” is supposed to boost voices that are suppressed, and it occurred to me that a lot of people sharing black screens might not help that. But I wasn’t very awake so I just rolled with it.
I got up, ate my breakfast and worked on homework for a good hour and got back on instagram. My feed, like yours, was flooded with black screens and the black lives matter tag. Now it really didn’t make sense to me. If the purpose of this “blackout” was to boost the voices that have gone unheard for so long, how was this achieving that? I sat and watched as it continued and I was so surprised at the amount of people I knew who did not realize that this was defeating the purpose of the cause.
I talked to my friend and mentor, Chikondi, who has been collecting food and medical supplies for protests in DC. I asked her if instead of sharing a black screen, or posting to my story hoping people will reconsider their black square posts, I can share her and what she’s been doing. I did, and I still watched for hours as more and more people shared black squares.
Later in the afternoon, the chaos started to die down and it occurred to me that this must be one of those things people are talking about when they say social media can be bad. Like yesterday, everyone was so sure there was a blackout in Washington D.C, but it never happened. People are just trying to spread information and something that wasn’t factual slipped through and went around. I realized that people were logging on to their social media and posting a black square because they saw that everyone else was also doing so. I’m not even sure if anyone knew what the original purpose was.
Honestly, I’m not certain of the purpose or how all of this blew up. I know the music industry started discussing “blackout tuesday” and this whole week to make plans for action and help important voices be heard. And I know that there was a photo going around asking people to participate in “blackout tuesday” by not posting on social media. But somehow, someone decided that to spread the word about this moment we were supposed to use to silence ourselves, we needed to post about it.
I know the intentions were sincere. I know that many people probably saw the black pictures and thought, “wow, this is a super easy way to be supportive!” so they did it too. I know everyone is on edge and wants to do something to make themselves feel better. This whole day left me with an uneasy feeling about how many people exercised performative activism, and how many people decided that they were going to do their part because it had suddenly become trendy to do so.
Instead of posting a black square, I encourage you to find someone’s voice who needs a boost. There are so many people, like my friend Chikondi, doing great work doing such a difficult time. There are petitions on the internet you can sign that take less than 2 minutes. Find someone that moves you and use the platform you know you have to tell others how great they are.
And thank you to Vic and Caitlin for listening to me be angry