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My Love-Hate Relationship With Instagram

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When I open Instagram and am forced to see my Discover page every morning, I’m hit with an overwhelming amount of infographics. They tell me of the “Truths About Womanhood” or “How to Support the AAPI Community,” and while both are important causes to me as an Asian American woman, it’s the last thing I want to see at 6 a.m. It’s exhausting to relive my experience as a woman and a minority every time I open the app.

I joined Instagram in middle school as a way to catch up with friends. When I got accepted to Pratt during the COVID-19 pandemic, that old online presence was the first impression that I made on everyone I met in college. The first picture I ever posted in seventh grade is still on my feed, and though it’s embarrassing, I can’t delete my cringey posts, especially when I use them to see how much I’ve grown.

Unfortunately, this idea of growth has now disappeared from Instagram and other social media platforms. While there was always an immense pressure to have a balanced follower-following ratio, get lots of likes and have witty captions, there’s now an additional pressure to always be politically correct.

I first noticed this last summer, when George Floyd was murdered by police and a surge of protests followed. Similar to many people across the country, I was outraged by Floyd’s death. In response, I inspired my parents to donate to the NAACP, signed petitions in my community and wrote letters encouraging residents in swing states to vote in the 2020 presidential election. I realized that I could either spend my time texting with my best friend about our shared anger, or I could utilize it to actually help the social justice causes that I cared about.

Other people decided to post a black square in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. When this was called out as lazy activism, people moved on to sharing infographics with educational resources. I first thought this was great. I was learning about Black-owned businesses in my community, as well as new ways to explain the meaning of the BLM movement to those who didn’t quite understand it yet. What I soon realized, though, was that the infographics and the black square were nearly the same thing: after you posted either of them, nothing monumental changed.

The deep rooted problem of racial injustice in this country cannot be fixed by a social media post. When you lay in bed and click three buttons to share links, you aren’t personally doing anything to make a difference; instead, you’re just telling other people to do it.

When I convinced my parents to make a donation to combat racial injustice, I didn’t go to Instagram to research which organization would be best. Social media sites are not newspapers that go through numerous fact checks before publication. I realized this firsthand when I saw a well-curated Tweet targeted against Mitch McConell before the 2020 presidential election. I absentmindedly liked it without looking deeper, only to realize that it was from The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans. I was horrified, especially since Vox has reported that founder Rick Wilson is known to use abelist and racist slurs. There’s a reason why your teachers always tell you not to do research on Wikipedia; it works the same way on social media.

Blogger Alicia Kennedy reiterates this sentiment. In a recent blog post, she stated that “a lot of language that sounds radical, sounds true—but would it pass...if it weren’t presented in a pretty square? Would it read as credible if it were not being shared widely, making one’s own share of it feel obligatory?”

In my case with The Lincoln Project, I was lucky that I only had a handful of followers, who personally knew that I wasn’t a Republican. However, if I’d made that mistake on Instagram, where I have significantly more followers, I don’t think the response would have been so kind.

Kennedy points this out as well.

“I also do not want to present my thoughts as definitive. They’re not!” she wrote. “But the authoritative tone of Instagram Information™ gives me pause, because it wants to be understood as definitive, as a guideline for behavior—online and off.”

In a world where cancel culture exists, when people disagree with you, they have no problem letting you know. Second year architecture student Cheyenne Valstar has received various direct messages in regard to her Instagram stories. She believes it’s the anonymity that causes angry messages in her DMs. There’s something wrong with social media when it's acceptable to send a rude message virtually, especially when one would never say that directly to someone’s face.

Valstar thinks that posting about politics, “makes those who are around you...aware this [cause] is what you believe [in].” While she has a point that these posts can make your peers more comfortable by knowing where you stand on certain issues, they don't prove that you actually care.

It’s incredibly easy to just say that you support a cause: what it actually comes down to are your daily interactions. This is the entire struggle of being a person of color in this country. There are people who simply have an implicit bias against us, but cannot recognize it within themselves. Adding to the massive slideshow of Instagram stories doesn’t change that we’re still experiencing microaggressions in our day to day interactions.

There’s racial injustice in this country because people aren’t listening to communities of color. All we’re asking for is for people to listen to our experiences and reflect how they’ve contributed to racism instead of trying to prove how woke they are. The time that is spent making and posting infographics can be spent reading books by Black authors to understand how you contribute to white supremacy or volunteering for an organization that you care about.

As someone who cares deeply about social justice issues but doesn’t post about it on Instagram, there’s a huge fear that I’m not proving myself and my support. Valstar relates to this problem, stating that, “It's not without stress, so some people just don't need that in their lives. I think, as long as you, in some form of your life, feel like you're being vocal...that's good. It doesn't have to be on social media.

”I’m on Instagram because my friends are on it, but also to create a photo album of memories. While I have many gripes with the app, it’s how I met all of my friends at Pratt, and how I found out about The Prattler to be able to write this article. While I wish I could just simply delete Instagram, I subconsciously know that I won’t. The same way I joined the app through peer pressure is also probably the only way I’ll leave it.

Still, caring about social justice issues online has become a trend. These causes deserve more attention than the few seconds someone will see it on your Instagram story. If you believe there’s a problem in the world, instead of thinking about what you’re going to post, think about what you’re going to do to change it.

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Art by Jessica Tasmin

written by
Naomi Desai
May 8, 2021