The half baked activism of Instagram infographics

Never has there been a time where information about the world around us was so easily accessible

Never has there been a time where information about the world around us was so easily accessible, whether on the radio, TV, newspapers, or, more recently, social media. Information on current affairs, specifically humanitarian issues, climate change, and wars raging around the world is just a click away. 

Recent years have seen a rise in aestheticized slideshows that break down concepts and humanitarian issues on Instagram. People are rushing to share these “infographics”, their intentions ranging from the spreading of awareness to the creation of a politically vocal online persona. 

In times marked by global unrest and moral uncertainty, everyone wants to share their opinion and show that they care about the issues at hand, and social media is the easiest way to achieve this. 

The increased frequency of these infographics, resulting in their oversaturation, poses the question of their activist, informational, and empathetic value. 

Social Media Consumption & Oversaturation

The ease and rapidity with which Instagram infographics can be shared, leads to our feeds being filled with posts about crucial and pressing human rights issues. However, social media at its core is designed for rapid consumption and instant gratification. While we might engage with the information of those Instagram infographics, the content is quickly consumed, but its weight and gravity are not fully comprehended. 

Being exposed to innumerable posts, graphics, and pictures of these often-acute human rights issues has the detrimental effect of desensitizing us to the urgency of the information we are consuming. The permanent absorption of horrifying images and statistics ends up becoming so embedded in our daily scrolling that it loses its intended effect of causing the kind of indignation that is vital for action. 

Does that mean that we shouldn’t post, and repost infographics? Would that not have the adverse effect of leading to a lack of awareness? Or should everyone individually be held responsible for remaining on top of current affairs? 

Individual responsibility

The question of individual responsibility extends to the reposting of infographics and the information they spread. With no expectation of journalistic integrity, the validity of Instagram infographics can often be questionable leading to the perpetuation of misinformation.

This can be harmful, albeit sometimes unintentionally, as many may absorb this information as fact, without “digging deeper” and fact checking the content they consume on social media. The weight of the responsibility of reposting and sharing accurate information about complex issues should not be understated, nor should the consumer of content forget their responsibility of exercising due diligence before accepting the content as truth. Are we aware of what we are posting and what we are consuming? It is vital for each and every one of us to be cautious in the information we consume and spread. 

Are 10 slides enough? 

Packaging complex issues into informative, yet manageable slideshows, while often serving a well-intentioned educational purpose, may lead to an oversimplification, which in turn can distort the understanding of the situation at hand. An attention-grabbing slideshow can hardly encompass the nuance and complexity of human rights issues. Especially in light of the oversaturation of infographics, the opportunity for empathy and nuanced, intellectual discussion is often squashed. 

Modern activism? 

Activism is defined as actions taken in the goal to achieve a result, usually socially or politically. Whether spreading information via Instagram can be considered as activism thus goes back to the question of the value of information. Is the spreading of awareness on issues and the manifestation of urgency a form of activism in and of itself, or does it need to be backed by further action? The act of posting infographics evidently draws attention to the cause at hand, allows for the sharing of ideas, and can manifest urgency and may push people to action by informing them of protests, petitions, and fundraisers. 

There is, of course, also the fact that this form of “activism” acts as a response to feelings of powerlessness in view of the state of our world, offering a form of consolation to the “sharer”. Even though the reposting of infographics manifestly does little to help resolve the issues at hand, there is an indisputable value to the raising of awareness and manifestation of urgency in matters that might otherwise not gain the attention they indubitably deserve.  

Performative activism? 

In considering the ethical and activist value of Instagram infographics, it is essential to take into account the intentions of those partaking in their spreading. While often well-intentioned, the reposting of infographics is for some simply part of the creation of a politically vocal online persona, without an ounce of “behind the screen” engagement with the issues they claim to care about. By projecting an activist, socially conscious image it allows the “sharer” to align with popular causes and obtain validation for being “woke” and vocal. This activism and political vocalness often only goes as far as clicking the “share” button, with no real-life engagement in the pursuit of change.  

To post or not to post? 

Social media also creates a pressure to appear woke, aware, and engaged, pushing people to take part in the reposting of infographics so as to show that they are aware of the issues at hand, and care about them. Gen-Z is all too familiar with the classic “If it isn’t online did it even happen?”. Especially considering the weight of the issues at hand, the pressure to contribute to the spreading of infographics is strong so as to show to the world – or at least your Instagram followers- “I am aware and I care”, even if this is not backed by real life engagement. 

 The question of whether Instagram infographics and the reposting of them can be considered activism, or at least activism-adjacent, goes back to the question of whether one considers the spreading of awareness as seeking to achieve a political or social goal. Regardless of the intentions behind the posting, I believe that spreading information is essential and constitutes, at the very least, the first step to activism. Ideally, every one of the “reposters” would take further action, do their research behind the screen, sign petitions, donate money, go to protests, but of course those actions take far more engagement than the posting of infographics.  Ultimately the mere act of posting cannot be equated with real life actions taken to achieve a goal, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.