Countless black squares, a mandatory #ChaiIsBae, one infographic carousel about a burning issue, and a screengrab of your latest Netflix find. Isn’t this how all our Instagram stories look like these days? Be it the Farmer’s protest or Cristiano Ronaldo’s resurfaced rape controversy. The world gets divided into two and so the game of online activism begins, for better or for worse.
Internet Activism Or Slacktivism?
When we share our opinion on our stories, walls, or feeds, we are automatically involved in a form of activism that uses our active online presence as a medium, this activism goes by many names, internet activism, online activism, or even digital activism. Our inclination towards the ideals and morals of the particular article or post shared resonates with our stand on the concerned topic. While to many, this is a major step to involve themselves in the political themes, certain netizens also tend to do so, with an ulterior motive of putting on a facade while intrinsically carrying a different take on the subject. Therefore, the ‘intent’ becomes a major deciding factor that distinguishes between digital activism and performative activism.
The problem lies in this form of activism is, that its very nature of being easily accessible, presents itself as performative, making it hard to recognize the authenticity of both the post being shared and the person who has shared it.
Activism Or Just An Act?
The recent 2020 BLM Movement, alerted millions of people across the globe towards horrendous systemic racism. Naturally, like everyone, I saw many Indians including my own Instagram friends share plenty of vector artwork of George Floyd, bite-sized carousel posts, explicit videos of Floyd being assaulted, etc, to spread awareness and show their support. But one particular story that stood out to me was a friend of mine who happened to be dusky, sharing their childhood experience of how these “selectively woke on the internet” classmates bullied and normalized calling racial remarks like “Kalu”, throwing light on the irony of indulging in performative behavior that lasts till the current news remains in “trend” and the double standards attached to global and regional outrage. From Priyanka Chopra to Disha Patani, the celebs, too, lost no time to take a stance on this massively systemic hate crime, which was only met with tremendous backlash since most of these actors actively promoted skin lightening creams which blatantly sell colorist and toxic body image issues to millions of perfectly looking gorgeous, dusky women. I mean, hypocrisy ki bhi seema hoti hai (there is a limit to hypocrisy, too)
Brands and their Banes
This leads us to the role of celebrities and influencers regarding the mandatory performative posts that they plaster all over their feed to keep up with the mass conformity that comes from a place, mostly to appeal to their followers that help them monetize their online presence. Remember the infamous Santoshi Shetty mental health incident? Amidst the shocking demise of SSR, a time where mental health became a prime topic of dialogue in every household, this lifestyle/ fashion influencer, offered to have a one on one session for 1500/- Many netizens, qualified therapists, pop news pages were quick to point out this harmful initiative which commodified mental health which was poorly disguised as an attempt to gain some brownie social capital points.
Many celebrities displaying selective activism, for instance, when Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor Khan demonstrated solidarity for #BlackLivesMatter, but no proof of support was shown for thousands of Indian migrants who marched to reach their homes on foot. Or like that incident where The Kardashians embarrassed themselves in a tagging chain to show their "allyship" to the BLM Movement.
This not only helps them in gaining their followers' trust but also encourages brands to attach to them for precautionary management in a sociopolitical environment. Brands love to hop onto the social justice side of the internet in the most ambiguous diplomatic manner whether they care about the issue or not. Many Fast Fashion Brands such as H&M, Zara, Forever21 have been under fire whenever they pretend to be vocal about sustainability since their greenwashing has been documented closely due to the rise of awareness about their ecological reports.
But all internet activism is not bad, of course. In an article, titled “Cut 'slacktivism' some slack”, the author writes, “For most people upset by a policy decision or a disturbing news event, the default is not to protest in the streets, but rather to watch others as they do. Getting to the point where someone acts as part of a group is a milestone in itself”. It is unfair to label any and every form of online activism as merely performative. As the world of the internet makes us more apathetic to the more violence-based content, it is extremely easy to ignore and tap away into another story or article. But with increasingly organized internet campaigns to spread social awareness, many more netizens have been encouraged to take an active interest in the political discourse through the availability of accessible resources, authentic voices, infotaining video essays, Twitter threads, etc.
Vocalizing The Virtual Voices
It also helps in providing a voice to independent activists, organizations, and journalists, in an uncensored and easy-to-communicate manner that has the potential to reach multiple other citizens. In September 2020, Suresh Chavhanke, editor of TV channel Sudarshan News, was called out for tweeting a teaser that involved communally divisive content. This further led to the prominent member of Newslaundry, Meghnad, questioning Amul’s sponsorship of the show, throwing light on the importance of brands’ financial backing and association to the hateful content. This led to a nationwide outrage of the beloved nostalgic brand. Eventually, the TRP scandal came to light later that month which brought some very prominent MNC’s and brands that supported the misinformed, sensationalized news of Arnab Goswami, Rahul Shivshankar, and Navika Kumar.
There are many instances of citizen activism that have created a ripple effect in using social media as an effective tool of activism at a global level such as Kpop stans using their massive following to crash a Dallas Police Dept. app that reported the BLM protestors with hilarious fancams and recently, social media activists anonymously flooded the Texas abortion tip website with Shrek memes and porn in response to the latest regressive and body policing Texas abortion law.
The Potential Of Harmonious Activism
While online armchair activism provides us the freedom to display our alliance and our voice in a quicker and simpler way, it comes as a no-brainer that putting up an aesthetically, Canva designed infographic post or tweeting with necessary trending hashtags won’t do the complete job. Instead of this constant virtual virtue signaling, there are plenty of creative ways to offer online help. Sign Go Fund Me’s, donate to charities, spread word about small businesses of the communities in need, amplify the authentic voices, offer online assistance in organizing necessary events, the point being, you can be virtual and still be active without coming off as a privileged performative activist. The 2020 Pandemic battle is a testament to how humane the internet can become when it comes to saving elderly lives and providing necessary medical aid. From Twitter to Instagram, the digital space was filled with constant updates and sharing of resources, cross-checking the authenticity of contacts, creating special helplines, providing free meals to isolated patients. From the medical industry to the entertainment industry, everyone united on the virtual front which provided real-time solutions.
Don't Just Perform, Practice It
So the intention to post/ share a resource should never be restricted to only checking off an invisible peer pressure box, it not only invalidates the whole purpose but also dilutes the movement and the necessary efforts taken by others actively working for the cause. From #MeToo to #AllLivesMatter, the internet is filled with the good and the ugly, it doesn’t hurt to relearn and educate from lengthy, descriptive articles rather than simply getting everything spoonfed from an echo chamber of biased opinions and news. As much as one takes efforts in virtually performing the due diligence, it is essential to implement the resources that have been read, discuss the uncomfortable dialogues that you wish to partake, to practice what you preach.