Instagram Infographics: The Double-Edged Sword of Digital Activism

If you have been active on Instagram at all in the past year, then you may have seen at least one post like this: serious issues such as police brutality or racism condensed down into bullet points, all pasted onto a pastel background with eye-catching fonts. Sound familiar? These Instagram infographics have been circulating on social media for the past year, calling for action from their viewers. There is even a name for this phenomenon: the Instagram Infographic Industrial Complex. However, with the overwhelming amount of reshares and likes that each infographic receives, one has to ask: are these “instagraphics” actually making a difference? Or are they just another example of performative activism?

Although activism on social media is not new, instagraphics focused solely on social/political reform started to reach their peak in early 2020. After the death of George Floyd, many took to Instagram to share their outrage over the circumstances surrounding his death. As this was happening, people began to post visually-appealing infographics and mini-PowerPoints explaining why Floyd’s death was unjust. They also added resources, donation links, and petitions for viewers to utilize. After seeing the reach of these infographics, many began to use the instagraphic format to discuss other issues such as sexism, human rights violations, climate change, and mental health. This ended up leading to mass reshares of graphics from accounts like “So You Want to Talk About” and “Impact,” changing Instagram from a lighthearted app into an activism platform almost overnight. 

Despite instagraphics only reaching their peak recently, they have impacted how people become aware of serious issues. In a survey conducted by Irregular Labs back in 2019, 63% of the respondents stated they primarily rely on social media for information on social and political issues, and it is safe to assume that this percentage has only gone up since. Because of this, instagraphics have been crucial in spreading awareness and gaining public attention for causes, and teenagers/young adults seem to be the ones putting in the most effort as newly-informed activists. Many instagraphic accounts are run by and geared towards teens (examples include “Dear Asian Youth” and “Zenerations”) and young adults have become more involved in signing petitions and attending protests, thanks to the instagraphics. Instagraphics can also be used to spread footage or information that may not be covered by mainstream media.

But despite all the good they do, the instagraphic format also has its cons. Many of the accounts behind these instagraphics do not have official fact-checking processes, making them prone to spreading misinformation and over-simplified versions of events. As writer and sociologist Eve Ewing put it, “Graphics… can be a helpful teaching tool, but some of the ‘racial justice explainer’ posts that go viral grossly oversimplify complex ideas in harmful or misleading ways or flat-out misstate facts.”

There is also the fact that the instagraphics have led to an increase in performative activism. As an example, an Instagram account known as “Bad Form Review” posted a list of fifty books by Black authors to help uplift Black voices. The post went viral, garnering over 100,000 likes and 40,000 saves. Yet, the books in the list never actually reached bestseller charts. The other posts on the account also had an extremely low number of likes compared to the book list post, further proving that people can share dozens of resources and posts without actually putting in effort towards the cause in real life. Another example of this can be seen with the hashtag “#BlackOutTuesday,” which was meant to help Black Lives Matter but ended up helping lazy activists achieve the bare minimum of allyship.

Overall, instagraphics have both positive and negative effects that seem to contradict each other. The graphics can help spread awareness and promote change, but they can also make activism feel like a trend and encourage lazy activism. No matter how one feels about instagraphics, they will continue to stay on people’s explore pages and conveniently deliver information. But, unless there is a change in how people utilize the information and how creators fact-check their work, the graphics will ultimately be useless to the causes they want to help.

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