The Problem of Performative Activism

Keira Kelly, Staff Editor

You open up Instagram or Twitter and your feed is filled with posts about the latest issue, the latest shooting, the latest update. There are pictures of people at protests, links to sources with information, and just people ranting their frustrations. Most of these posts fall into the category of activism. But is this activism genuine or is it just performative?


What is Performative Activism?

Performative activism, also called ‘slacktivism’, is defined as “a form of activism used to increase one’s social capital or personal gain rather than genuine support towards a movement, issues, or causes.” In the times of social media, it’s not hard to find these ‘slacktivists’. They’re the people who post about issues and that’s it. They don’t really do anything else, they just want to look good online. Some ‘slacktivists’ do go out and protest, but when they make it about themselves rather than the cause, it becomes a problem. Of course, not everyone posting about issues is just doing it for the views. Social media is a great way to spread information and awareness, and many activists use it, but the large number of fakers online can make that difficult.


Why is it a Problem?

At the end of the day, these people aren’t helping anything. They aren’t really doing it for change, they just want to do it to look good. Sometimes, their posts cover up actual information about the issue or an event. A well-known example of this is Blackout Tuesday, where organizations and individuals posted a message along with a black square on social media. This, however, became a problem because the posts filled up tags and hid actual information about the Black Lives Matter movement. Although some people did mean well (and even tried to provide info in captions and descriptions), many people simply posted a black square and then patted themselves on the back. Ultimately, the day didn’t do anything for the movement, but many people felt that participating was enough.


Pressure to Perform

A huge part of performative activism comes down to pressure. A lot of people online feel the need to post some message about whatever problem is happening in the world, either because they want to look good or because they feel like they’re obligated to do so. But all this does is get people to talk about the issue, no one is actually doing anything. This isn’t entirely the fault of people online. Some feel forced to post about issues they don’t truly understand, either due to a lack of connection or a lack of information. Often, people (especially teens) are expected to post and retweet and spread information, but these posts don’t do anything, because the people sharing information aren’t actively fighting and getting the message out. They’re posting because they feel they have to, not because they want to.


What Can You Do?

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible for people to get out and go to protests or rallies. Sometimes the only thing they can do is post on social media. Especially now, with COVID keeping people at home, it’s more important than ever to know how to post online without accidentally becoming a ‘slacktivist’.

  1. Take time to educate yourself. It’s important to try to understand the issue you are speaking up about. Even if you can never truly understand every aspect of the issue, just trying shows more dedication than some people.
  2. Educate others. There are so many ways to do this. Talk to the people closest to you and find out how much they know. And online? You can share links to sources for information or share a Carrd to share many links and resources at once.
  3. Don’t feel the need to post. You don’t need to post about every single donation you make. It’s okay to post about protests and rallies that you attend, but don’t make them about you. Make them informational and give a time and place, or if you post after the event is over, maybe tell your followers about the people who organized the event instead.

Oftentimes, activism becomes performative on accident. So take the time to learn how to avoid it and maybe help change the world.