We all believe in the power of social media — it’s a space that brings people and communities together and can be used as a powerful social tool. But none of that matters when the whole grid is blacked out, pushing useful information into the metaphorical back cupboard of the internet.
On Tuesday this week, #BlackoutTuesday went viral, with people from across the globe contributing to stan with George Floyd. This new branch of social #blacklivesmatter activism rallied a massive social media protest. In this, users started posting blacked-out images (or just a solid black square) to show their support for the cause. A highly relevant cause in the States, where police brutality seems to have run rampant in the needless slaying of black people.
Disguised as social help
While it could be seen as a sweet gesture in support, what was supposed to be an online protest had unintended results: the blacked-out pictures were drowning out important resources and info for the Black Lives Matter cause. “Jamila Thomas of Atlantic Records and Platoon’s Brianna Agyemang started #TheShowMustBePaused — an initiative to bring attention to the deaths of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery, and others — to encourage a day of ‘observance of the long-standing racism and inequality that exists form the boardroom to the boulevard,” Gizmodo reports.
stop posting black squares under the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Instagram. it is intentionally and unintentionally hiding critical information we are using on the ground and online. pic.twitter.com/EIS44aDXXd
— y’all don’t read the room 🥴 (@anthoknees) June 2, 2020
What followed was a sea of black squares on social platforms, especially Instagram. Soon most users couldn’t even find a speck of colour among the dark flood of images. “But the same megaphone that can amplify messages can also distort them,” Wired explains. After the unfortunate death of George Floyd by the hands of the very people employed to protect the people, activists used social media to share useful information and links for other activists to contribute and make meaningful change in their communities.
The blackout-posts simply diluted all of the actual relevant information people use social media to access. “… organizers have worked tirelessly to share images and information across social media, urging followers to take action,” Wired details the effects of Blackout Tuesday. Soon, the general public couldn’t easily find info about protests, donations and online resources about Black Lives Matter.
So apparently now if you go through the #BlackLivesMatter tag on IG its just filled with black pictures due to the blackout. Do folks not see the issue? Am I missing something? https://t.co/HlYUPyHC5v https://t.co/rXhmlFJP0M
— Rubén (@QueerXiChisme) June 2, 2020
There aren’t many ways to feel like you contributed to a cause when you’re sitting on the other side of the globe, but we need to remember that social media is essential to distributing information in times of crisis in the world.
Maybe this is a lesson learned in social media etiquette — and a very important one. It’s also one that we would have never realised without a situation like this. Luckily, humans can learn from mistakes. And maybe we’ll think long and hard before contributing to filtering out important and relevant information on the internet in future. The prevalence of fake news makes this just so much more essential to learn.