Can Celebrity Activism Campaigns on Social Media Make a Difference?

On one particular day, the world of social media was a little quieter than usual as celebrities resolved to “freeze” their Instagram accounts for 24 hours to protest hate speech and misinformation spread on social media, particularly on Facebook. “I can’t just sit by while these platforms continue to allow the spreading of hate, propaganda, and false information,” wrote Kim Kardashian West, who has 188 million followers on Instagram, before encouraging her fans to join her. Facebook is Instagram’s parent company.

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The day-long freeze was organized by Stop Hate for Profit, a coalition of nine civil rights groups urging Facebook to make policy changes to address online harassment and conspiracy theories that spread place on the platform. According to Stop Hate for Profit, the freeze on Instagram was witnessed by over 1 billion people by Wednesday night. But even though the boycott temporarily reshaped the Instagram feeds of the celebrities’ collective millions of followers, it also faced some criticism. The critiques compared two other major social-media activism campaigns in recent months: #BlackoutTuesday, for which Instagram users posted black squares to show support for Black Lives Matter, and #ChallengeAccepted. This campaign involved users posting black-and-white selfies in a declaration of women’s empowerment. A central question dogged the hashtags for all three: what could short-term social-media action do to create long-term change?

Social Media’s Pervasive Culture

Experts argue that social media-activism can have a ripple effect and cause change if it’s done properly. People have been using their platforms on social media to voice their opinions and call attention to some problematic issues in U.S. society in the past years. This means these social causes get exposure in a different light because social media is so prevalent and pervasive in today’s world. This power can only be fully realized if the campaign also exists offline, meaning in real life. Despite all this feedback, she thinks Stop Hate for Profit has the potential to be an excellent example of how an online campaign can go beyond symbolic gestures. The Instagram freeze is part of a week of action organized by the coalition, including clear objectives like educating people about misinformation. These social media campaigns give everyday people an opportunity to do something larger than themselves, but there have to be online and offline goals and objectives. To offer up the idea that we’re not going to use a platform for a day is not the goal—it’s a tactic that should be used as an overall part of a bigger campaign to evoke larger change. The backing of a campaign like Stop Hate for Profit is not, in fact, necessary to make an impact, but it helps to have an established set of goals and ideas to back up the posts. She points to how hashtags can go viral when used on social media. While many tweets bring awareness and gain momentum, there is often a lot of work done before these issues come to light. Ultimately, however, even though social media can raise money and awareness, it’s only one part of a bigger puzzle—one that won’t be solved by a single social media post. Social Media can draw awareness to the hate speech and misinformation on Facebook, the more significant issue that needs to be addressed is the existence of the hate itself and the world’s realities that produce it.