The dos and don’ts of social media activism


Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Stop! I know you think it’s really important for you to reshare that post because it’s supposed to plant a tree or donate a dollar to Australia or something, but just hang on a second.

If your social media feeds look anything like mine, it’s political post after political post. More young people are becoming aware of the world around them and it’s finally balancing out our ignorant extended relatives who think it’s up to them to preserve the fabric of America by sharing their distasteful opinions online.

With more information at our fingertips than ever, social media can be a great way to mobilize people and spread information. There are grassroots organizations using Instagram story highlights to educate about immigration and prison abolition. There are protestors using livestream features to make their action virtually accessible. And there are hundreds of thousands of normal, everyday people going online to share their opinions in the hopes of finally being heard. But not every political post is necessary. Before you hit that button, let’s think some things through.

DO: Fact check

It can be tempting to hit “retweet” when a tweet is so perfectly worded that it gets your blood pumping and your heart racing and you feel like everyone else needs to know this information right now. However, pundits and even news headlines use concise, inflammatory language on purpose for, well, clickbait. Before you post anything political, look it up and make sure what you’re about to stand behind is actually accurate. This includes reading the whole article and not just the headline.

DO: Credit your sources

We’re at a point now where organizations, educators, scholars, authors, you name it, use social media professionally. If you use information from someone else’s work online, the least you can do is tag them and consider thanking them financially by buying their book or sending them a few bucks through Venmo. Citing your sources, either by tagging them or adding a link to a news article, also makes your post more credible.

DO: Post action items

At a certain point, watered-down political opinions aren’t helpful. There’s no need to post about how sad you are about the Australian bush fires when it’s been in the news for days. What you can do, though, is post action items. If there’s a donation link, share that. If there’s a politician’s number you can call about proposed legislation, share that. If there’s a rally happening near you, share that. Even if all you can do is open up your messages for people to ask questions regarding the topic you posted about, at least you’re affecting some change.

DON’T: Post what you don’t understand

A good chunk of political posts need context in order to fully tackle the issue. A prime example of this is current events regarding Israel and Palestine. While your opinion after reading one news article may be valid, it’s always good to look up a crash course on the Zionist movement, for example, or the origin of the U.S.’s relationship to Israel. This applies to any and all political issues, too, like police brutality, climate change, you name it. An informed opinion is key. (And remember to cite those sources.)

DON’T: Only post when it’s “timely”

I’m sure everyone can recall Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when every other Instagram story had a quote from MLK plucked from a speech without context. Because these posts spring up almost out of necessity on this national holiday, I fear many people don’t realize the irony of supporting MLK one day and then endorsing Joe Biden’s presidential campaign the next. And if you feel the need to post something political only when you’re supposed to, you might not be paying attention to people in need around you who could use your voice every day.

DON’T: Post “1 Share = ____” posts

There’ve been many Instagram posts that claim for every like or repost, they’ll do something like plant a tree. The majority of accounts that post these capitalize on our emotions in the midst of crises like forest fires to gain followers and attention. Pay attention to these accounts. Do they have a website that can tell you about how they will execute what they promise? Do they ever post a receipt of the huge donation they’re supposed to make after receiving millions of likes? I’m going to guess the answer is no. These posts are pointless, and I promise your time is better spent planting a tree or donating money yourself rather than liking a post on Instagram.