Instagram's quick return to normalcy

Sunday, June 28, 2020 - 6:53pm

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If you looked at my Instagram account a couple weeks ago, every post, story and direct message was related to the Black Lives Matter movement. There was an endless stream of information: organizations accepting donations, videos of protests, petitions, book and podcast recommendations. 

The return of “normal” posts of people with their friends or at the beach came quicker than I expected. Some of my friends have taken to their stories to post statements with sentiments like “Stop posting bikini pictures” or “Nobody cares what your face looks like right now.” As I have watched social media change from normal to centered around the Black Lives Matter movement and now back to normal, I have begun to question what the impacts of Instagram posts are: What is beneficial and what is hurtful for this movement and should people think before they post a normal picture in this time? 

Cece Whitlock, a rising sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, pinpoints various issues about the quick return to normalcy on Instagram. As a Black woman from a primarily white hometown (92 percent white and less than 4 percent Black in 2010) and a more diverse college (34 percent white and 16 percent Black), Whitlock has witnessed the flux of Instagram content with doubt. 

Numerous themes of posts have trended on Instagram during this movement. It began with simple digital drawings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, with the words, “Justice for (insert name),” or pinky promises in the air with the words “I understand that I will never understand. However, I stand.” While these seem harmless, Whitlock pointed out that to her and her college friends, “it felt like people were publishing so they’re not on the bad side and so that people know they’re fine.” 

It is good to express your solidarity for victims of police brutality or stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. However, when people only post stories that have no information, no links, no resources or new perspectives, they are not actually changing minds or effectively educating others on the movement. Posting these performative stories allows people to feel as if they have done their part and can carry on with their lives, something that is so often titled “slacktivism.” “Posting a pretty perfect picture of something tragic or a cartoon picture is not going to do anything,” Whitlock said. “You can do that but also post it with real information.” 

As Whitlock has witnessed her Instagram feed quickly return to normal, she believes it has shown people’s true colors. Those that were silent for the first few days of the movement, but then jumped at the chance to post selfies again once it seemed socially acceptable, are not considering the feelings of Black people in their communities. Whitlock has felt truly hurt to watch people she considered friends move on from this movement so quickly. She noted, “it is disappointing, but not surprising.” 

On the other hand, when is the right time to post normal pictures again? The fight for civil rights is not a quick fix — there will always be injustices happening in the world while we take our selfies and beach pictures. Is there ever a clear time when it becomes OK to post again? 

In all reality, there will never be a clearly defined time and yes, it is okay to slowly return to posting “normal” pictures. However, Instagram users must not move on from focusing attention on the fight for justice and equity. We must continue to spread information and resources and not let those who would prefer to stay ignorant escape the reality of America. Post your beach selfie, but do not skip through the Instagram stories that amplify Black voices, do not tell yourself you have done your part and can relax and continue to educate yourself and your peers. Change doesn't happen overnight and actively pushing for change must become the new normal. 

It is great that so many people have taken time to educate themselves and finally support the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the Black community has endured systemic injustice and racism in the United States for centuries without white people speaking up. “Why did it take all of this stuff for people to say or post Black Lives Matter?” Whitlock said. “What was different this time? Though I am upset it took all these things for people to realize that white silence is violence, this is a movement not a moment. Similar to the #MeToo movement, this is very powerful. It is our generation's turn. We must change institutions. The power is in our hands and we have to realize it.” 

Social media is a powerful tool that can be used for more than sharing the most fun and exciting parts of our lives. It can be used to spread knowledge, show our support for causes and fuel movements. It is essential that we do not treat this movement as a quick trend. We must all contemplate how we want to use our platform and be mindful of the real impacts of what we post. 

Lizzy Peppercorn can be reached at epepperc@umich.edu