Everyone with an Instagram account has probably seen them. In the wake of tragedies and discussions involving racial violence, restriction of rights, and sexual assault, you’ll most likely see a bold, eye-catching infographic calling attention to the event on numerous Instagram stories.
Infographic activism is a phenomenon that has taken Instagram and other social media platforms by storm. This way of calling attention to an issue or spreading a message has become extremely popular since the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Accounts like @activismgirl create and share infographics, which users can repost on their stories.
What is interesting is the particular design of infographics. Graphic designer Eric Hu explained to Vox why these infographics may have certain colors or patterns. While they may be loud and almost ugly, they are designed that way to be promoted by Instagram. Infographics use the same colors, text, and patterns as advertisements that Instagram’s algorithm pushes out to their users. Yet instead of a product, infographics advertise a social issue.
Many activists praise this new form of spreading information about certain issues. Social media allows users from different races, classes, and places around the world to communicate with one another. It’s a lot easier for people to spread knowledge about the injustice they face to others who may not experience them.
Additionally, it’s easier to spread them as well. Social media is a much more accessible medium than writing in a newspaper or appearing on the news and allows for marginalized people to speak out about the social issues they face.
However, many critics argue that they spread misinformation. Most infographics do not include sources backing up the information they provide. While they might not blatantly lie, their very nature can oversimplify complicated social issues and gloss over important details.
Critics also accuse infographics of “performative activism”. Celebrities, influencers, brands, and corporations alike share infographics with their followers. While they spread awareness about social issues to a large audience, many people question whether they truly care for these injustices or want to paint themselves in a compassionate light.
To me, intention does not matter as long as an audience is using the knowledge they gain from infographics to participate in real activism and positively contribute to their communities. Though the morality of brands and celebrities can be questioned, it is the infographic itself that sends a message. It’s up to the recipients to interpret that message and act accordingly. It may be performative, but it’s entirely possible that one person could read about police brutality via an influencer’s story and be inspired to take part in activism.
When I come across an infographic, I ask myself these questions: Who made it? What accounts are posting it? Is it backed up by reliable sources? Can I trust the information in it? Whether people believe in infographics, their presence on social media is not going away any time soon. We should interpret them with care and caution while thinking of their actual effects instead of their intentions.