I took Instagram off my phone. I wanted to spend a week away from it. I’ve curated a demanding feed for myself since May. One that calls me to recognize my entitlement, invites me to think more critically, and strengthens my humanity. I’ve been following and posting with more intention since then. I’ve shared my thoughts about social media before. “Either Instagram uses me or I use Instagram.” That’s what I wrote and that’s still what I believe. I still refuse to be used by social media.
When I hear people say “I’m not on Facebook” there is a part of me that applauds them. I mostly hate Facebook. I hate what it does to people. I hate how social media platforms like YouTube end up dividing people and radicalizing them. I hate how it peddles hate and fear. I hate how Instagram distorts reality. How it makes us want to overshare and tell polished stories about ourselves. Social media subverts progress in so many ways I wouldn’t begin to be able to list them all.
On the other hand, ‘democracy dies in darkness’. And social media, for all its imperfection, sheds a light on injustice the way nothing else really can. It was the impetus for the Arab Spring. It brought worldwide attention to protests at Standing Rock. It put the horrors of tyranny and civil war on display when civilians in Aleppo took to YouTube and Facebook live. We see again and again police brutality brought to us by the electric glow of our screens. The people pursuing justice use hashtags to communicate, to plan, to organize quickly and effectively. I know that it is possible to utilize the capacity of social media to make the world better.
When I talk about being strategic with social media, I mean that it can be a weapon in the arsenal of activism. I mean that it can pull off the blindfold in powerful ways. I have used it to educate myself. I’ve diversified my feed and I am better for it. It inspires me now in ways that it never has before. I believe I see the world more clearly and am better connected to it. But that’s only because I’ve been very intentional about my screentime. It’s because I am active in my participation of social media now, not passive. I am using Instagram, and even though I know it is still using me, I at least feel like it’s a symbiotic relationship not a parasitic one. I’m letting social media teach me to be a better ally. And it has. I’m letting it help me be a better member of my community. And it will. I’m letting it expose injustice that I would not otherwise know about. And it does.
So, again, when I talk about being strategic with social media, I understand that it becomes more complicated to just “delete” my IG account or Facebook account. I understand that using social media for activism and to support BIPOC means that swearing off social media amounts to burying my head in the sand. It is the equivalent of turning my back on suffering. It is unacceptable silence. It is a display of my privilege.
I want to challenge you to be strategic about social media. I want to encourage you to think more critically about your presence on social media. To think about what you see when you scroll through your feed and how it makes you better. Does it make you better? When you give up your precious minutes to thumb through your feed, when you are done, do you know more than you did before? Do you see people who are not like you? Or does it validate everything you want to believe about yourself? Do you set your phone down and wish you had something that someone else has? Does it play on your anxiety and insecurity?
I took a week off. I recognize that it is a privilege for me to do so. I follow so many BIPOC activists and I understand that they do not have the luxury of deleting their account. Or silencing their feed. I understand that there is work to be done every minute of every day. That the work is absolutely worth every minute of every day.
I took a week off from seeing the lives of those affected daily by structural racism. My daily life outside of social media is not afflicted by the race-based caste system in which we all live. In this race-based caste system, I have to make a conscious choice to expose myself to the people that are struggling in my community. This is my privilege. How easy it was for me to just put it down. Put it away. Close the app. I can see why people want to check-out. I can see how people choose complacency. How they choose to let social media spoon feed a palatable plate of pretty pictures and funny memes. Privilege is a poison cup of comfort.
Look, social media is a tool. It can dehumanize or humanize. It can misrepresent or represent. It can divide or unite. It can confuse or teach. It all depends on the user. It all depends on the person. You can allow the tool, the feed, the people you follow to contribute to your echo chamber. You can let the app reinforce your version of your story. But the way I see it, we were made for more than just one story. We need more than one version of one story.
Turning my back on Instagram and all the justice champions that I support…it was way too easy. Which is exactly why I was anxious to get back to it. To plug back in. To engage again. I felt I’d abandoned my people, and so abandoned myself. I want to do the work. I want to activate and challenge my humanness, my desire to be better and my deep love for the people that inspire me.
Connection to other humans, to other stories is the great power of social media. Can you be open to those stories? Can you learn from them? Can you take off the blindfold? I believe you can.
(Try following #representationmatters. It’s a good start.)