• Avani Sood

Performative Activism: The Trend Cycle

What is performative activism?

Performative activism is supporting a cause to gain attention and support from others, rather than wanting to make an impact or change regarding the issue. These actions often show little to no effort being made to educate others or take action, and performative activism often aligns with the “white savior complex.”

Examples of performative activism

While performative activism has been around for decades, especially since the rise of the internet, it has become more prominent over the past few years, with the BLM protests and Covid-19 pandemic. Some examples include:

  • Blackout Tuesday: In June 2020, many social media users posted black squares to show their support of the BLM movement, and raise awareness of violence towards the Black community. However, it ended up flooding feeds and drowning out critical information and resources which would have been more helpful. Brennan Turner, a PhD candidate at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology explained that “#BlackOutTuesday highlighted how powerful peer influence can be on social media in terms of not wanting to be seen as complacent and silent on a significant and very public social issue.”

  • Celebrities singing “Imagine”: At the start of the pandemic multiple celebrities, including Gal Gadot and Will Ferrell, posted clips of them each singing a line from John Lennon’s popular song, Imagine. The video received immense backlash for being tone deaf, taking away from the realities of the virus and failing to address the real problems, or offer any real support to communities suffering from the virus.

  • NFL “End Racism:” The NFL painted the words “End Racism” on a football field in 2020, but denounced Colin Kapernick taking a knee during the National Anthem, to support the BLM movement.

Why is performative activism bad

Performative activism takes attention away from communities and groups, and instead highlights who can be the better “activist.” Some critics also believe that social media has contributed greatly to performative activism, as it is easier to post relatively unhelpful information on the Internet than it is to take action on the streets and in places that need it.

Social media is an important tool for activism, however it is often misused by performative activists that use it to gain support and followers. Almost weekly, the internet finds new issues to trend and expend energy on, but this frantic rotation of hashtags can result in conformity and performative activism, especially for members of Gen Z who have grown up with the internet.

Moreover, brands often use social media to perform in performative activism, more often than not, for capital gain. Activism is seen as great PR for brands because it garners support, and they often have no history of activism, but do it because they know that the majority of Gen Z, their primary customers, value activism.

How to avoid being a performative activist
  • Research and listen: Before posting or sharing information, research the cause or organization to understand their true goal, and also why and whether it is important to post on social media and raise awareness. Further, listen to the communities you are trying to support. Amplify and share their authentic voices, and put them at the forefront of the discussion.

  • Take Action: Make an effort to be involved, through voting and donating among other ways. Try influencing others to be involved and take physical action, not just by reposting and resharing, but other activities as well, such as volunteering or marching.







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