Every time a major social justice issue is in the news, the infographics come. You’ll see the same bright, flashy, eye-catching boxes of text shared to numerous friends’ Instagram Stories. Your friends are signalling their interest in a topic and making it clear where they stand — but is that really helpful? There is more to activism than posting a well-designed graphic: Here are the next steps you should take.
There is nothing wrong with sharing infographics
First of all, there is really nothing wrong with sharing some statistics or calls to action on your Story or Twitter timeline — but ideally, you want to do more than just tell other people they should take action. Arielle Geismar, an organiser and mental health advocate, explained that her passion is identifying people online who are interested in topics (usually by seeing them post) and “converting that to in-person action.”
“I think as a whole, the reposting of infographics and infographic culture is generally well-intentioned and whole-hearted,” she said, but she added that sharing posts can veer away from raising awareness into a bit of performance. “When we look at each other with the best of intention, I think that the root of infographic culture is people who are genuinely trying to spread the word about a cause that they care about.” Hopefully, she said, this will serve as a signal to social media followers that the reposter is available to talk about the issues offline or in their DMs.
K. Agbebiyi, a macro social worker working in reproductive policy and a prison abolitionist organiser, added that people repost these infographics for a variety of reasons, from raising awareness to feeling like they’re helping in situations where they feel powerless, connecting with people, or maybe “also to signal to people that they keep up with current events.”
Infographics can be good, they said, because “people can learn rapidly about complex issues in ways that are most accessible to them and connect to people doing the work.”
Next steps for activism
The national uproar over systemic racism and police brutality that took place in the summer of 2020 was notable because the pandemic made it more difficult for people to take their action to the physical realm, and pay cuts and job losses impacted people’s ability to donate to relevant organisations. The infographics that summer were everywhere and while that was OK at the time, it’s important to remember that when you have the chance, you should be doing more than posting.
If you’re not someone who takes to the street in protest or could join a volunteer group, you can still get involved. Donate to the causes you care about. Put your money where your mouth and your Twitter fingers are.
“Make sure that you’re reading a lot about the issue from multiple different sources,” Geismar said. “If you find an infographic that you really connect with, read it and then also look at the sources that they’re citing. Look at other infographics. Maybe you transition into digital media searches, look at different sources, and start to gather some information.”
Beyond listening to experts and finding trustworthy information sources (which you can learn more about here) you’ll also need to start talking to people. Geismar said you have to bring the issues up in the communities to which you belong, but you also need to translate what you’ve learned into language your community will understand. Repeating a few phrases you learned on infographics isn’t going to cut it; you have to research sincerely, then communicate what you’ve found out.
Next, go to the social media pages of organisations that focus on the issue you’re passionate about or check out their websites. Find the “volunteer” tab or any notices about upcoming events. Here’s where the infographics come in handy: If you’ve noticed anyone in your community — whether it’s your school, workplace, friend group, or region — who’s been reposting images about a certain issue, invite them to join you at an event or as a volunteer.
“Look at who is posting the infographics and see if they are affiliated with an organisation in the area,” said Agbebiyi, who added that you can even start your own group with others who’ve expressed an interest in the issue online. “Take the time with the small group to read and research on your issue, connect with other organisers, and plan structure, then get to work longterm.”
Check in with yourself to make sure you’re on the right track
If you are still determined to repost infographics, you have to be smart about it, too. Fact-check everything you read before smashing that share button. Putting out inaccurate information doesn’t help anyone.
“People don’t verify sources and spread misinformation,” Agbebiyi cautioned. “They may share but not actually follow up or help the issues they’re sharing about in a meaningful way. It can prioritise the performance of caring over actual work of undoing oppressive systems.”
As mentioned, one of the major issues with infographic culture is it can be a little performative. If you’re speaking out about LGBTQ rights in a community that is hostile to them, for instance, it can absolutely be powerful to show that you are an ally or activist and others can join you, even if it seems scary. Otherwise, it’s easy to start feeding off the praise you might get for reposting a few infographics here and there or to want to create a public image of yourself that suggests you’re compassionate and informed. It’s so easy, in fact, that you might not even realise your values have shifted away from genuine aid to a bit of self-promotion.
“Starting with the basis for empathy for the issue is always going to be the first step for me,” Geismar said. “The next thing is ensuring that you’re not just posting and then forgetting about the issue, but you’re making sure that you’re taking action steps.”
She said it’s important to follow up with action after you repost, whether that means donating or starting more personal dialogues with people.
Use social media in other ways
Social media can be performative and hollow, but it can also be a great place for people to learn and grow. Instead of reposting infographics, you can make your own content (as long as you remember the guidelines above about not getting too focused on yourself).
“Social media platforms really prioritise content that they think will do really well,” Geismar noted. “Sometimes that’s an aesthetic piece of content. Sometimes it’s content that looks good or has a person in it or has a face or it’s a nice picture shot on a good camera. Sometimes, that is unfortunately prioritised over, let’s say, a text-heavy piece of content from a Notes app.”
She pointed out that some content creators have started working social justice messaging into other posts, like makeup tutorials. They speak about important issues while demonstrating how they get a perfect eyeliner wing, appealing not only to an algorithm (and consumer base) that prioritises direct-to-camera tutorials, but educating viewers, too. If you’re involved in online communities that love, say, NFTs, video games, fashion, or sports, think of content that can be both related to the core interest of the group and the cause you care about — then post that organically instead of reposting another infographic everyone will ignore. You have power in your communities, online and offline, and the dialogue you spark can be meaningful.