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Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

Performative activism: The pitfalls of seeking validation through online advocacy

Performative+activism+causes+individuals+to+be+more+worried+about+their+public+image+rather+than+making+a+change.%0A
Performative activism causes individuals to be more worried about their public image rather than making a change.

While clicking from story to story and scrolling from post to post, young adults often come across the activism of others, not just celebrities but their peers. It seems remarkable for people to be so informed on every global issue. Is it just for attention? Or perhaps to curate a certain image or make students look more educated than they really are?

Whether these issues are genocides around the world or injustices next door, there is always something social media users are fighting for. But some question whether individuals are rapidly reposting various article links, instagram posts and GoFundMe’s to show genuine support or to flaunt their falsified compassion to their followers.. 

When someone consistently posts about one single topic, it’s sensible to assume they are well versed in the subject and have genuine interest, as well as strong opinions about the issue at hand. However, it’s simply impossible to feel so strongly about every critical world issue. 

The constant spreading of these posts can be seen as performative activism. Performative activism is activism that is done to gain social status and praise rather than true dedication to a cause.

 Activism amongst the younger generation is not new ,as teenagers on social media are constantly informed of various world events through these apps and often share their opinions. But while any activism is incredibly beneficial, when it comes from a performative place it can do more harm than good. 

While it may not seem like it, young people play a very large role in catalyzing change and educating the public, as junior Andrés Brav explained. 

“I remember earlier this year many states passed bills regarding mental health services in schools due to student activists. Mental health is a huge issue, especially for young people in America and as government officials saw youth protesting online and in public, we were able to provide resources in schools for mentally ill teens which is a large step forward,” Brav elaborated.

Teenagers have a large impact when fighting for what they believe in, but when teens begin to feel pressure from their peers to speak out on subjects that they are not informed or fully educated on, this activism can quickly turn performative. 

Young activists will often repost false infographics with bold lettering making a large claim that they assume fits what the majority of their followers will find acceptable and post it. This can be even more harmful than not speaking out at all as they are providing their followers false information that can shift their views on a subject. 

As a result, most activism from younger generations is performative and done to simply gain clout and help them feel good about themselves rather than done with actual passion. 

Teenagers and young people have a lot of power in shifting decisions in government, but if their activism becomes surface based and clearly inauthentic, government officials and people in power will simply stop taking them seriously. 

A well known example of this  occurred after the death of George Floyd in 2020. After the death of Floyd at the hands of a police officer, by June 2020 the incident gained all of America’s attention with millions of Instagram users posting black squares with the hashtag “#blackouttuesday.” 

During that time, no one was allowed to be an observer and everyone was not just encouraged, but forced to show their support and speak on the matter online. 

“I remember the death threats celebrities, influencers and even kids received for not speaking up. If you didn’t post a black square, you were immediately dethroned on the platform and canceled.” Bravo explains.

So indubitably, the influx of users posting black squares with immense pressure and without even fully understanding the situation led to many mistakenly posting with different hashtags such as “#blacklivesmatter,” which was solely supposed to be used for spreading information surrounding the incident and police brutality against African Americans. 

The overbearing encouragement to participate led to uninformed individuals posting the wrong statement, leading to the “blacklivesmatter” hashtag getting filled with other misinformation and black squares which was drowning out black voices with real passion and determination from trying to inform the public on what was actually going on. 

Overall, it seems that sometimes no activism is more beneficial than performative activism used  to avoid being canceled. 

Additionally the impact for celebrities and Hollywood surrounding forced activism is much more detrimental.

The current Israel-Palestine conflict has caused celebrities and social media influencers’ social media pages to be filled with comments and death threats screaming for them to make a statement and speak out, even if they know nothing about the topic. 

While individuals with large platforms should feel obliged to educate themselves on as many subjects to educate their large audience, as they can make the largest impact, forcing individuals to use their platform can create ingenuine and unproductive discourse. 

A major example of this was during October of 2023, when fashion and lifestyle influencer Nebela Noor, quickly made a statement regarding the Israel and Palestine conflict and, in a long Instagram story, stated that she sided with Israel.

As the majority of the media is pro-Palestine, she immediately got hate and death threats, even toward her children. This made her reevaluate her statement and later come back to say she is siding with Palestine, which caused her followers and other users to make a mockery of her.

As she explains in her new statements that she wasn’t educated before on the subject, this is a crucial example of how threatening people with large platforms to say something can cause them to spew claims they don’t truly believe in which will cause their followers to be misinformed, creating performative activism.

It’s simply impossible to force influencers and people with large platforms to be educated on every serious world issue. And shaming them and teenagers for not doing so will only increase unauthentic activism which will only negatively impact an issue.   

But junior Jordan Ingram believes she has a solution. “The best way to create change with performative activism is for social media users to take the pressure off their peers and celebrities to always have a stance and to relieve them from feeling that they must speak out. Although large platforms should feel obliged to say something as they have hundreds of thousands to millions of listeners, it is always best to stay quiet and listen on subjects that are new rather than speak too quickly with no substance,” Ingram concludes. 

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About the Contributor
Asritha Gunukula, Multimedia Manager
Asritha Gunukula is a junior at Pleasant Valley High School and serves as the Multimedia Manager for the Spartan Shield. Asritha is passionate about computer science, design, and writing as her favorite classes are AP Computer Science A, AP Lang, and Honors Journalism. Outside of school, Asritha is a part of many activities including an all girls FTC team, Flourish & Bots, and a nationwide youth climate change organization, where she uses coding to create games to teach the youth about the current climate crisis. Asritha also spends her summers volunteering at robotics summer programs at Riverdale Heights Elementary. Some of her hobbies include baking, traveling, and spending time with friends and family. 

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