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Bikini shot. Birthday shout-out. Snappy posts complete with a slider tool to indicate on a scale (with emojis for units!) how you’re feeling today. A slide deck listing the symptoms of growing up with emotionally unavailable parents. Bikini shot. Another birthday post — wait, there’s two birthdays today? Next, a post titled “It’s Time We Talk About Casual Ableism”— a comprehensive lesson complete with pastel colors and speech balloons.
To an Instagram user who joined the platform for updates on “The Bachelor” or pictures of their newborn nephews, these posts may seem out of place, misinformed, or just blatantly tasteless. I have an iPhone 6, so consider me prehistoric, and I don’t frequent Instagram enough to be fully cognizant of evolving trends and post formats. Regardless, at some point in the transition from heavily-filtered collages of cat pictures to longer-form, interactive posts, a creative form of activism emerged — posting dramatic news headlines with aesthetic images and cutesy fonts.
Performative activism — activism done to improve one’s social capital rather than advance a cause— is certainly flawed. To the viewer who picks up the daily newspaper, these sporadic calls-to-action may seem to severely lack substance. The undoubtedly superior, prestigious viewer may scoff at a shimmering “Sex Workers Need Rights” post covered in digital stickers.
But would you rather they not address it and learn nothing at all?
At the bare minimum, one must familiarize themselves with current affairs to design one of these posts. Thus, regardless of whether or not the careless creator failed to critically analyze all evidence before submitting their social media infographic for peer review, they had to, at least to some degree, consider the message they were sending. As a Facebook user, I constantly read ill-informed “opinion pieces” reposted by my friends and family members. I would much prefer the younger generation of Instagram users explore their ideas factually in infographics and contribute to conversations that will hopefully extend beyond their following.
If a friend replies to an infographic with a “So true” or a “Yass!” — that is social progress! Threading controversial and pertinent ideas through the channels of friends can shape how casual discussions materialize and expand.
Indeed, it is uncomfortable to see Covid-19 mortality rates or global poverty statistics displayed in the foreground of a laughable doodle. The childlike, whimsical representation of devastating news is certainly unsettling. But who is going to post a starving infant on their Instagram story? Especially in sequence after the sorority shot from their Florida Keys self-discovery team retreat?
No, I do not champion these artsy infographics as the height of modern education; nor do I believe their presentation is necessarily sensitive, just, or effective. But if you’re frustrated that casually reading academic journals has not yet become a trend, become an influencer. And if you think influencers are brainless Instagram addicts who lack the ability to meaningfully impact their audience, consider the millions who repost their bikini pictures and their politically-driven statements alike.
As much as we love to reminisce on the print newspapers of the past, the fact of the matter is a significant percentage of Americans are reading the news on social media. It is time to accept that information being spread through social media is the potential next phase of formal news consumption. If Instagram can compel 55 million people to like a picture of an egg, why can we not take advantage of its effects and create an avenue for political discussion as well?
I’ll admit it — it’s disquieting when I open Instagram only to be hit with my younger sister’s friends posting about genocide, especially since I have only ever used Instagram for aimless pleasure. But the purpose and presence of social media is evolving. We cannot deny that many people have fallen victim to a habit of scrolling through slews of followers’ photos and videos on the daily. Maybe infographics are just the start of a movement to make social media platforms more meaningful.
As a Harvard student with an active Apple News app, I’ll confess that I learned something in an infographic I hadn’t read in headlines about the Russia-Ukraine crisis just a few days ago. And I fact-checked it, just for the skeptics who persistently think that infographic curators are not equipped to learn, teach, and share about something weighty – albeit in sparkly fashion.
Haley M. Stark ‘25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Quincy House.
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