Another viral campaign screeched its way across social media last month. As feeds filled with black and white images, mostly beautiful shots of those posting the pictures, many were left questioning the exact meaning behind the campaign. WomenSupportingWomen was a popular hashtag, as was WomenEmpowerment, but it was tricky to see how these images were designed to empower other women. If anything, it appeared cliquey and exclusive. The mention of close friends who had nominated others to this ‘challenge’ were added to captions as the campaign gained momentum. But what was the ‘challenge’ exactly? If high profile figures were admitting to their millions of followers that even they didn’t know quite why they were posting the black and white image of themselves, it was clear that the original meaning of the viral message had been well and truly masked.
According to many reports, the campaign originated in Turkey. Pinar Gültekin, a vibrant 27-year-old woman, had been brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend. In a country with increasing rates of femicide and a government set to revoke the legislation designed to protect women from gender-based violence, Pinar’s black and white image was used as a symbol of protest. As more images were uploaded, somewhere along the line Pinar’s image changed to photos of those who were posting to their accounts. 14 million images later, Pinar was but a distant memory in this latest viral trend.
Raising awareness of injustice is commended and necessary, but the question must be asked whether posting to social media has, in many cases, become a case of panicked peer pressure.
The 2nd June saw another important viral trend, the posting of black squares in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Accounts historically filled with zero images of people of colour and with a seemingly white-only promotion policy (or blatant ignorance by the exclusion of POC or black owned businesses) posted a black square. The black square was then followed by statements that brands (both independent and global) would provide a new working policy within their companies. Since the beginning of June, many Instagram accounts do appear more diverse, with fashion images featuring black models, a quote by a respected black intellectual. But can these companies and individuals who posted the black square say hand on heart that it meant something to them? Or were they panicked into posting. Authenticity isn’t hard to decipher; followers may not know the name behind the account personally, but the intelligence to feel an authentic voice through visuals (and limited text) cannot be underestimated.
Problems arise when a show of social media support for a viral trend is used as a way to avoid being criticized for silence. When peer pressure, rather than emotional attachment, causes millions to post, the real goal of fighting injustice is blanketed by those who want to be seen to be doing the right thing. Often, the truth is they have little or no investment in actually doing the right thing (donating, protesting, including).
A viral trend creating awareness can only be viewed as a positive. However, with the speed in which trends dominate the social space, the question we should be asking is, are people speaking their truth?
(Image used without permission. The image source or those featured cannot be located)