Even in moments of fleeting silence, social media is deafening—a relentless tide of tweets and captions calling for action and demanding for real change to be made. Now more than ever, the Internet has become a catalyst for social justice amongst young people. All it takes is one viral hashtag to set off a chain reaction of reposts and retweets advocating against prejudice, hatred, and discrimination, but is that enough?
In recent years, the use of hashtags on social media has led to the establishment of global movements, seen with #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #MarchForOurLives. With millions of people using them every day, there is no doubt that online platforms have unparalleled scope when it comes to spreading awareness and showing support for ongoing social issues. However, it is important to remember that a hashtag is just the beginning.
Anybody can share or like a photo, but this form of engagement is not synonymous with taking action if nothing more follows. It is both disheartening and misleading when social media influencers with massive followings believe they are “doing their part” by reposting photos without context or explanations of their importance. The same can be said about members of the general public who, despite having a smaller reach, still attempt to raise awareness using their online presence. Allyship is more than just a retweet; it is a lifelong commitment to learning and unlearning, re-evaluating and acknowledging, and taking accountability.
Social media is empowering, but it should not be viewed as a substitute for self-education or self-reflection. What matters more than a repost is what we do before and after. It is more important to fully understand and be aware of the history behind the movements advocating for justice and equality than it is to share photos online. The latter takes seconds while the former is never-ending. In the efforts to work in solidarity with marginalized communities, both are stepping stones.
Active allyship begins with educating oneself and informing others. In order to truly understand the cause and impact of an event and why it must be advocated for, indepth research from trustworthy sources is essential. Reading articles and novels written about and by members of oppressed groups can lead to the recognition of a person’s own privileges and the development of knowledge that they did not have before. Going beyond the hashtag means holding the people around us, and ourselves, accountable and learning when to take a step back. The goal is to amplify marginalized voices, not speak for them. Being present in powerful discussions also initiates thought-provoking conversations with friends and family members who may be unaware of what others face.
However, not all conversations are easy to have. Addressing the prejudiced or ill-informed comments and actions of people close to us or ourselves for that matter, can feel uncomfortable or daunting, but it is necessary. Mistakes are inevitable, but commitment is a choice.
Practicing allyship is listening openly and learning together and from each other. It is a reminder that change will not result from a tide of retweets and reposts, but from acknowledging and understanding our privileges and learning from our mistakes on and offline. Change starts with stepping stones, and although social media can be one of them, it is certainly not the end. A hashtag is only the beginning.