Instagram story culture: not always picture perfect


Image: Instagram

Jenna Peterson

On April 15, 2019, people from all over the world watched on screens as the beloved Notre Dame burned in Paris. Suddenly, Instagram stories were flooded with snapshots of the exquisite structure. Posts eventually transitioned from those of sympathy to a call for action: donate money to save this precious piece of architecture. It was that day Instagram story culture arrived.

Just a few days later, in celebration of Earth Week, a sustainable clothing company Tentree, flaunted a post on their profile which read, “DOUBLE TAP TO PLANT A TREE”. The caption detailed that if the post got five million likes, the company would plant 500,000 trees in Biak Island in Indonesia. Instagram stories were once again taken over. Today, the post has over 15 million likes, making it the fourth most liked photo on Instagram. And Tentree delivered on their promise, yet that is not always the case.

Many companies have since created their own version of Tentree’s post, claiming that likes will translate to action. In many cases, there is never proof of follow through. This is just one example of Instagram activism gone wrong. 

This is a danger to us all. My generation thinks that change is just a click away, that all we have to do to make change is share a post, often without giving much thought, and that’s a lot of power. Or is it? Do we even know about what we post about?  Does clicking and sharing really generate societal changes, or does it merely breed complacency? And if we are only informed by photos and captions, are we informed at all?  

No and yes. I enjoy posting this type of content on my own story. Spreading awareness about pressing issues is thought-provoking. And yet, I will admit that I do not always stop to deeply understand the conflict or change I am forwarding. I do not stop and evaluate the source. I suspect most of us do not. 

Yet, it is time we do.  

In August, when Brazil failed to intervene in the burning of the Amazon, I noticed many people reposted content stating that no media sources were covering the tragedy. Yet that was not true.  It is just that those people were not accessing the media that covered that event. People were not actually paying attention to news outlets, and they continued to post without being fully informed. 

It is great to spread ideas about change, let’s just make sure we are informed and what we share is accurate.

Most importantly, we need to remember that there’s a whole world outside of Instagram. That might seem obvious, but no matter how often you see or post activism posts, change cannot happen unless we take action outside of cyberspace.