The Student News Site of Conestoga High School



Performative activism needs to get off stage

Niki Chen / The SPOKE

By Saktisri Gowrishankar, Staff Reporter

Performances can be boring, funny or even life-changing, but people should never perform some acts. When I see performative activism, I want to boo it off stage.

Performative activism is when someone participates in activism to increase their own social capital instead of for the sake of the cause. It has become particularly prevalent with the use of social media. It is easier to simply post a symbolic image to feel good about yourself rather than to support a movement because you care. In a way, activism has spiraled into a trend.

With the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, online platforms became critical in the spread of information. Anyone can find boycotts, fundraisers and statistics online, but the ease of posting on social media has detrimental effects.

In social media activism, people tend to repost images or stories with no authentic understanding of the issue at hand. Large corporations will post things like Pride flags and advocate for Black Lives Matter in support of marginalized groups to gain societal approval and following, then promptly forget the issue.  Individuals will say they are supporters of a movement to seem like a good person, while remaining largely uneducated.

Maddie Possamai, a collaborator at Power in Place, an organization for women in politics,  found that “performative activism may be successful in spreading awareness about issues but it is limited in creating tangible change.”

Another issue arising from social media activism is the investment of energy into the wrong topics. For example, due to constant reposts and miscommunications, the Starbucks boycott became people’s priority because they believed the company was supporting Israel. Starbucks staff unionized in boycotts due to overworking and underpayment. However, some people mistakenly believed the boycott to be related to the Israel-Hamas war.

Online activists are calling out individuals, often celebrities, for not participating in the boycott — but what does that advocacy really do? It has no effect on that individual’s actions or the larger cause at stake. People only participate in this kind of activism because they want to feel morally superior to others and obtain self-gratification.

Trista Lara, a writer for the University of California, Irvine’s newspaper New University, notes that in the Black Lives Matter movement, “reposting the BLM black square could be a symbol of allyship, or it could be done for fear of looking like a bad person. The latter is counterproductive to activism as a whole.”

Participating in activism is better than doing nothing, but at what point is that activism just as futile as sitting by without action?

Mindless reposts and callouts tread that thin line. Social media can still be effective in advocacy. Some more constructive strategies include posting about upcoming protests or events that will urge lawmakers and politicians to consider their decisions. Providing links to fundraisers, marches and petitions will show real care for a problem.

People need to stop putting on an act for everyone else and just take action.

Saktisri Gowrishankar can be reached at [email protected].

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Saktisri Gowrishankar
Saktisri Gowrishankar, Staff Reporter
Saktisri Gowrishankar is a sophomore and Staff Reporter for The Spoke. She tends to write about local news or for the Opinion section. Outside of The Spoke, she plays badminton and participates in choir, Key Club and HOSA.