Practice what you preach
My morning routine has been the same for years. I wake up to the blaring sound of my alarm, and as soon as I touch my phone to turn it off, I have an instinctual reaction to open up Instagram and scroll through my feed. I am normally greeted with genuine pictures of friends, aesthetically pleasing nature photos from someone’s most recent vacation or a funny meme that offers a good morning laugh. However, Instagram has looked much different in the past few months.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice movements, most people I follow have turned away from sharing light-hearted, personal material and have shifted to using their platform as a tool to educate their followers on societal issues and raise awareness. The beauty of social media is that it’s not just a way for users to keep their followers updated on themselves, but rather a way to connect and share valuable information across the globe, which is crucial during a divisive time like this.
September is here, which means that it’s time for most college students to head back to campus. As students make this transition, the educational posts and stories remain present, but personal posts are starting to trickle in once again. The latter is not problematic alone; however, if a social media user’s personal life starts to contradict what their profile preaches — for example, if they constantly post about the importance of social distancing but fail to distance themselves — then it becomes an issue. Why preach what you don’t practice?
Using social media as a tool to educate and spread awareness is more important now than ever. We are in the midst of a transformative time period in terms of our approach to public health and social justice, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. I applaud those who take time to find pertinent information and share it with their friends. Yet, I question those who do so, then explicitly — or implicitly — prove that they are not holding themselves up to the standard they preach. Instead, they do this to maintain a social media image that showcases passionate, high-ground activism. It has become “trendy” to be a social media activist. This needs to end.
But the more education, information and awareness the better, regardless of the person posting it, right? The issue is not with the material itself, but rather the standard these social media users are promoting. By contradicting your own activism by clearly not following the action items you promote, you are showing your followers that the activism you are engaging with is indeed not that serious. It delegitimizes the work of real activists who put significant thought into their activism and then proceed to live a lifestyle that supports what they preach.
There is a fine middle ground that people our age often fail to realize. It is not a black and white situation; just because an Instagram user does not make daily posts about the importance of wearing a mask does not mean that they are denying the pandemic’s severity. If you are someone who understands the severity of the pandemic but knows that there’s a likelihood that you will be in a large group setting (with a chance of posting it to your page), then you should not preach against large group settings. By contradicting your own activism, you are telling your followers that what you are preaching is only important enough to make stories or posts about, but not important enough to follow through in supporting.
I understand why people in our generation often engage in this type of performative activism, and I do not believe these people are inherently bad. When social justice movements become prominent — especially as prominent as the Black Lives Matter movement, which may be the largest movement in U.S. history according to the New York Times — people begin to support the cause even if they were not passionate or knowledgable about the movement before. Some of these people become truly passionate supporters, while others simply become passionate posters on their social media accounts.
The latter type of activism stems from white guilt — people constantly posting information in support of the movement to prove to their followers that they, too, are passionate about supporting and protecting Black lives. It’s for mere self-validation rather than the intention to generate change and true impact. When everyone does this, the information shared becomes meaningless and fails to help the cause.
We are students at the University of Michigan. If we truly care about a cause, then we must work to do whatever we can to support it. As college students, we are capable of doing more to support a cause than simply raising awareness on social media and then failing to personally uphold what we exhort onto others. Oftentimes, we find ourselves under a lot of pressure to conform, especially in a society that is so interconnected. But just because someone else is using their social media platform to educate and exhort does not mean that you are required to do the same in order to be perceived as a good person. Keep yourself accountable and stay informed. Just remember to practice what you preach.
Spiros Kass can be reached at email@example.com.