The Problem with Performative Activism
Updated: Jun 8, 2021
We’re all guilty of it, you’re browsing through Instagram and you see an aesthetically pleasing, pastel colored story that breaks down a complex issue - addressing either political unrest, new found pandemic information or climate crisis into a couple of bite sized, 1080 x 1080 slides.
You’ve seen this particular one on your Instagram Stories already and your trusted woke friends have already liked the post so you don’t necessarily finish reading this nicely designed slideshow before you repost it to your own story.
There, you did it.
Now, even if one person out of your hundreds of followers takes the time to read the slides and even educate themselves, you’ve made a difference. You’ve potentially changed their opinion.
But, have you? Or are you just wokewashing?
What’s performance activism?
Performance activism is a superficial type of activism done with the intent of increasing one's social capital and rather than because of one's devotion to a cause. Sometimes called surface-level activism or slacktivism.'
The line between performative allyship and true action has been blurring.
During the start pandemic, when we were all confined to our homes and during lockdown, social media became the primary way to feel connected.
No longer adhering to grind culture, a system where you don’t have time for empathy, now being confined to our homes, the virus forced us to evaluate our interdependencies and relationships.
We were forced to stay at home and think. Think about ourselves, our shortcomings and where our society was at while death and uncertainty surrounded us.
The unjust deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor - became the spark for many to fight for Black Lives Matter loud enough to shake the world and created the largest social media movement in history.
Without social media, the movement would not have reached as far as it has.
And it was effective. In October of last year, 23 percent of users in the United States reported that social media led them to change their views on issues, some specifically citing Black Lives Matter.
Since then, there has been an explosion of chunky text, pastel themed infographics on social media. If you’re passionate about a cause, I can guarantee you’ll be able to find infographics on
To the point we’re now numb.
Instagram account, soyouwanttotalkabout garners more than 2 million followers. Their platform is 'dissecting progressive politics and social issues in graphic slideshow form!'
The problem is performance activism is still a superficial way of demanding or making change. While your intentions may be well founded, the impact you may have is most likely marginal.
One of the biggest examples of this can be seen when #BlackOutTuesday took over the internet, which on the surface seemed well intended, but had no more effect than participating in an Instagram challenge. Worse, the millions of black tiles drowned out important information organizations and activists wanted to share, such as where to donate or protest.
The most effective way to drive change is through policy development.
If all you’re doing is reposting something woke, measurably, you’ve accomplished nothing.
You’re no different than someone who uses their privilege to be ignorant on issues you know are more than just about red vs. blue.
This raises the question, is performance activism better than nothing?
One side effect of performance activism is that your social media feed is your own personal bubble, and you’re likely to surround yourself with like minded people which dictates exactly what shows up on your feed.
The problem is that there’s a high probability that your social media is just an echo chamber.
Inherently, social media limits your exposure of diverse perspectives and favors the formation of groups of like minded users framing and reinforcing shared narrative hence, echo chamber.
An echo chamber is an environment in which the same opinions are repeatedly voiced and promoted, so that people are not exposed to opposing views.
So, what can I do?
Digital activism should not be seen as the solution or end goal of an issue. Rather, a representative of how your everyday actions impact your advocacy. As social media users, you bear the burden of being critical and intentional when it comes to your posts.
Before posting, consider:
Is it necessary to post it if you really can’t back it up with any tangible action you’re taking in your life?
Are you creating an echo chamber - how many of your followers are likely to disagree or be impacted at all?
Are you using credible sources, i.e., doing more than reposting a viral tweet that makes an amazing analogy from an influencer who supports all the same things you do.
Understand that your social media is meant to polarize. Do not let it win. If your activism is followed by the words ‘If I don’t see you reposting, please unfollow me,’ ask yourself if your words and posts genuinely have the potential to create a space for conversation.
What does activism or empowering others mean to you? Our mission is create room for conversation about race, social justice and asserting your identity in the face of cultural prejudice. We would love to hear your thoughts at email@example.com