High Stakes on Instagram
Recently at Swing Blue Alliance, we have been using different social media platforms to engage with wider audiences and spread the word on issues we care about. However, one platform we have not used is Instagram, due to its less than impressive reputation when it comes to activism. To understand the capacity to influence opinion and spread a message, we on the communication/social media team have been looking at the form Instagram posts take. If you are even a little tempted to share opinions on Instagram or if you are someone who rarely uses social media, you may have questions about how questionable perspectives get amplified. The seductive infographic is often to blame and the set-up for Instagram users creates the ideal conditions for spreading provocative content.
Instagram is so personal that any misstep can have local and personal social consequences. It’s not just a troll who jumps on your head, it’s your friends who judge you. Instagram strips its users of anonymity. On Instagram, your username is your legal name. You populate your account with selfies, revealing your identity. And who are your followers? Your friends, naturally. So it is the perfect set up to feel called on to perform, and then to be examined, judged, and pressured by peers. Let’s take a closer look at the infographic to show you what we mean!
The instagram infographic is an easily dissectable format–It’s helpful to have examples, so I’ll offer three. Infographics are generally a multi-slide post that start off with a colorful, attention-grabbing title. The cover slide may say something along the lines of “You don’t care enough about what’s happening in Ukraine!”, “What internalized misogyny is and why you should care about it”, or “Here’s why Chanel is an anti-Semitic organization!”
These titles will draw viewers in. When they scroll to the next slide, the Instagram author gives the dictionary definition or surface-level explanation of the topic. For our examples this may include a collection of the most graphic Ukraine-related headlines, the Merriam-Webster definition of internalized misogyny, or a brief summary of the late Coco Chanel’s involvement with the Nazis. The third slide will further explain the premise. In these examples, this slide functions almost as an “anti-bigotry for dummies” page. The fourth slide then tells the infographic readers what they can do. For example: Donate to an organization supporting Ukrainian refugees. Read this amazing Sylvia Plath poem about a woman who tackles her internalized misogyny. Stop buying Chanel.
Reacting to Infographics
Often, infographic creators intend to educate people. The basic idea behind their infographic may be admirable; the author may have decent intentions. However, major current events aren’t usually treated in a thoughtful way on Instagram. Creators tend toover-simplify the issues. Then anyone who shares or comments can be labeled insensitive because the oversimplification, of course, has neglected to be sensitive to certain perspectives.
The problem with infographics is magnified for users like me. When impressionable teenagers using Instagram—not unlike myself— read a provocative headline, agree with it, and immediately share the post with all of their followers WITHOUT reading the whole thing or next slides that take a turn in a direction they don’t agree with at all.
So for example, they will read a headline that says: “Racism is bad. Let’s talk about it.” They will agree with this sentence that nearly everyone would agree with. However, they will neglect to scroll to the second slide that reads: “Nobody ever talks about how you can be racist towards white people. You can! Reverse racism exists.” Soon, a good chunk of this person’s followers will read this infographic and believe that this person actually agrees that reverse racism is a problem.
Someone will spread the word to other classmates who aren’t followers, but who do know the person. That person is now facing a social death–might be excluded from gatherings, the equivalent of unfriended online. Classmates might shun this individual. In more extreme cases, they may contact the person’s future college. In some cases, the rest might unfortunately do what the original user did–read just the first slide and share it, thus spreading the misinformation.
This is such a common occurrence because Instagram is, in a sense, a performance. Boys, for example, share infographics to assure the pretty girls at their school that they are pro-choice. Infographics are carelessly reposted because users will see an opportunity to remind their followers of their admirable morals and impressive allyship. Taking this opportunity is understandable: Liking and sharing an infographic is just so convenient.
Avoiding the Traps
The best way to avoid the infographic traps (and to model responsible content creation), is to actually care about the issue you are hoping to shed light on. You should not just look like you care about it, you should truly care about it. This may include reading and sharing a real article rather than a quick, multi-sentence Instagram post, or at least clearly embedding links to more detailed information within an infographic.
While making posts for Swing Blue on platforms such as Tik Tok, my fellow interns and I tend to try to make them as informative as possible. We do not tackle the most grave of issues in 15-second videos. We incorporate humor when appropriate. We genuinely care about the topics we address.
My personal guidelines for being authentic, while still spreading the word on issues that deserve attention, is to avoid using loaded language that manipulates my readers into acting out of guilt. I want to make my opinion clear from the outset. I read attentively and to the end before liking or sharing someone else’s infographics.
So, the next time you see an infographic on social media, read and digest the whole thing. Read up on the topic a little more to check the validity of any facts cited (e.g., https://indivisible.org/resource/welcome-indivisible-truth-brigade), especially if the ideas are new to you. Before you judge your friends’ politics, ethics, or compassion based on something they shared, start a conversation. Before letting them know what you found disturbing, you might ask them if they read and agreed with the whole sequence. If you deem the information accurate and acceptable, by all means, you should share it with your friends. Help good ideas and thoughtful questions spread!
by Natasha Butler-Rahman