We use platforms like Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to share trivial details of our day-to-day lives and exchange serious information, resources and calls-to-action about important things going on across the world — from COVID-19 to Black Lives Matter.
But whenever hashtags start to trend, things also get complicated. How have efforts like #blackouttuesday impacted the movement for Black lives, in productive or harmful ways? To answer that question, we’re taking a look at five moments produced by social media that shine a light on the best and worst of these platforms as solidarity tools.
Blackout Tuesday, initially dubbed #TheShowMustBePaused by Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, was a way to memorialize the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The idea, which originated in the music industry, soon caught on, and people across social media started posting black squares as a sign of solidarity.
The only problem? Because people were adding #blacklivesmatter to those posts, social media algorithms boosted images of black squares instead of important information related to Black Lives Matter organizing.
In response to Blackout Tuesday, white supremacists decided to create their own event and hashtag, #whiteoutwednesday, to advance their racist agenda. However, K-pop fans caught on and decided to flood the hashtag with videos of their favorite stars. Soon, K-pop videos were all you could see when you searched #whiteoutwednesday or #whitelivesmatter.
This isn’t the first time K-pop fans have done this kind of thing. When the Dallas Police department tried using a video app to identify protesters, K-pop fans flooded the app with videos of their top stars and crashed the app. More recently, K-pop stans, along with TikTok users, have taken some credit for Trump’s underwhelming Tulsa rally on June 20th — reporting that they registered thousands of tickets and then didn’t show up, creating a prime photo op: rows of empty seats.
TikTok was accused of preventing people from seeing posts with the hashtags #blacklivesmatter and #GeorgeFloyd.
Users reported that when they searched for the terms “blacklivesmatter” and “GeorgeFloyd,” there were 0 views — sparking speculation that TikTok had censored those phrases. TikTok responded with a statement that the problem had been a glitch that also affected terms like #cat and #hello. Still, glitch or not, the issue has been resolved, and when you search for those same terms on TikTok now, you should get a full view count.
While a lot of people have been doing real work to bring about change, some have been using theatrics to get more likes. One example includes a woman who stopped a worker from boarding up stores in Santa Monica to borrow their drill for a photo op. She then walked back into her Mercedes-Benz and drove away.
This is a tricky one.
Izabella, a 15-year-old girl in Louisiana, tried to talk to her parents about the killing of George Floyd and the importance of Black Lives Matter and was deeply upset by how they responded. “I literally hate my family so much,” she said on TikTok. Her video went viral, and more and more young people made similar posts, turning it into a trend.
Those conversations can be powerful and go a long way to highlighting everyday racism, but remember — “allies” highlighting what’s hard about this moment for them personally can do real damage. So if you’re an ally planning on posting something similar, ask yourself: Am I doing this for myself or for the movement? What am I hoping to achieve?
In the days of perpetual quarantine when we can’t connect as easily off-line, social media is more important than ever. But if we’re going to depend this heavily on these platforms, we have to use them to impact real change. We can’t just post black squares on Instagram and say we’re done, nor can we pick up a drill just to make it look like we’re doing something. We actually have to do it.
So what are some things you can do?
Social media can — and has — sparked real-world change, but that change doesn't happen on its own. So keep fighting!