Is Activism on Social Media Fake? Two AUC Students Take a Stand

By Marit Grootswagers

By Camie Clarkson

In light of the new TEDxAUCollege event tomorrow Saturday, Luca Ntsoumou, a first-year Social Science student, will bring up the issue of performative activism. The Herring talked to Ntsoumou and Agne Cepaite to hear their thoughts on this hotly debated topic. 

The link between social media and activism has deepened since the 2010 Arab Spring demonstrations and since 2013 when #BlackLivesMatter made its first appearance. The killing of George Floyd in 2020 caused a movement of social unrest. The Russian invasion in Ukraine is currently flooding social media with posts about the horrors of the war. 

Ntsoumou explains how thanks to social media we are a lot closer to a lot of the problems that we see, as we get to see videos of real people going through terrible things on social media. “Opposed to reporters with microphones in their hands, we see vloggers, people who have to leave Kyiv because it is being bombed,” Ntsoumou says. 

For Ntsoumou, performative activism is when people act as if they are in support of a cause or movement, not because they necessarily care about the movement, but rather to seem “woke”, get internet points, or because their friends do it.​​ “There is this social pressure to do it, it makes yourself feel better,” he mentions. 

A lot of these issues are being made into trends. Ntsoumou brings up the example of the Taliban. It still is a problem, but now people don’t talk about it anymore on social media, Ntsoumou points out. “My issue is not with social media inherently, but how people use it to do activism,” he says. “I argue that [performative activism] is not actually activism because it transmits a message to black people, people who are taken advantage of by the police, that our problems don’t really matter unless we are currently the trend to talk about.” He explains that it transmits that people do not really care to listen about the issues people go through in general, unless someone gets killed. “That is kind of a sad and harmful message that we are sending to the black youth,” Ntsoumou says. 

Finally, he notes, “When you know there is change that you can make, maybe in your local community, go ahead and make that change rather than following whatever everybody else is doing to make yourself feel better.”

Agne Cepaite, a second-year Science student, talks about how activism on social media has two sides. “I do not really like the name ‘performative activism’, but I am a really big advocate for activism on social media,” she says. Cepaite continues by explaining that there is a dilemma of whether social media activism is of actual use and if it actually counts as activism, but she thinks that it does make a difference. “Even if it is not necessarily the most useful form of activism, it does increase exposure,” Cepaite explains.

As for the current war in Ukraine, for a few weeks social media was flooded with images. “Yes, quite a few people jumped on the trend but I think the exposure caused more donations to come in and more people to volunteer,” she says. The other side of performative activism, according to Cepaite, is that there are people who choose to only educate themselves through social media, and do not double fact check. The most common practice of activism on social media is reposting, and oftentimes it is very useful because people are experts on situations that you are not, however, you have to fact-check, she adds. “If you read through your sources you can use it as an educational platform as well.” 

Cepaite does not see it as a problem if people jump on a trend. Activism in general seeks exposure and attention, so any kind of repost contributes to that in her opinion. The only problem she sees is that it really quickly becomes old for people, and our interest gets depleted. She concludes, “I do not see social media activism as a form of activism as a whole. There are more impactful ways for sure, but this could be a supplement to it. Every little bit helps.” 

Ntsoumou will hold his TEDx talk in the Science Park building (room C0.05) on Saturday, 14 May, at 13:00.

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