We can all confess to getting a kick out of social media attention.
But a new generation of activists are proving that Instagram isn’t just about narcissistic selfies. The platform is also being used to shed light on oft-ignored causes, showing the world that it’s possible to use social media to genuinely bring about change in real life.
Over the past few years, Instagram has become a safe space for marginalised communities to feel comfortable opening up important conversations and elevating their visibility.
And although some might think that online activism can’t make a real difference, the Black Lives Matter movement is a testament to the power of hashtags.
With over 1 billion users worldwide, young activists know that in our digital-savvy society, the platform is essential to their generation’s advocacy.
Whether they are protesting against corruption, calling for the decolonisation of our minds, supporting those in exile, or fighting daily harassment, their activism is nuanced.
We caught up with five young Arabs to ask how and why they are using Instagram as an agent of protest.
“Whilst the three of us have been raised abroad, we feel distinctly Lebanese and have had the privilege of spending large parts of our childhoods there, visiting our families. The fact that we haven’t witnessed any material improvement to infrastructure or quality of life in our 26-years is an emphatic illustration of our government’s incompetence – though it should come as no surprise given the same group of people have been ruling the country over that period. So, we decided to support the revolution by exposing what we know in a simple, clear and direct fashion: through facts and numbers.
We contended that, armed with this kind of knowledge, people would be more likely to see through the politicians’ well-rehearsed rhetoric. The same rhetoric that has divided our country and hindered progress since the end of the civil war. As members of the Lebanese diaspora, unable to partake in the movement back home, we chose to support them from London by sharing information that should readily be available to the public, but unfortunately isn’t. Instagram is a platform that has allowed us to delivery our information in a very clear, direct and most importantly, instant, way.”
@neilaromeyssa, founder of @commun.exil
“I wanted to create a platform of expression and instant dialogue, reserved to all those, who like me, are affected by the experience of immigration. It felt important to me that exile finally had a place within our collective conscience. I was really feeling terribly sad a few months ago, I was depressed actually. I was missing Algeria so much. I felt abandoned. And so I started writing to my friends and family and many replied saying, “I relate so much to what you’re feeling”. I’m using the word exile and not immigration (which can be used to refer to second and third generation immigrants) to refer to people, who like me, have literally left their homes to settle elsewhere. My platform is about giving us a space, just for us. And give us hope.”
@taqwabintali, founder of @zarafetgalleries
“I was born and raised in Paris, but as a hijabi woman, it has never been easy for me to find a school, an internship or a job. I’ve always loved fashion and art but have always felt like there was a huge representation problem within these industries. So I have never found a space where I could meet people, have conversations and share my passion. And I quickly realised that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. With my cousin, we created the platform Zarafet Galleries, which seeks to celebrate Muslim/modest culture in France. We are very active on Instagram, as our aim is to offer our community what they didn’t have before and empower them. The reception has been great. Everyone is thanking us, telling us how much (until Zarafet) they felt lonely and frustrated about the narrow world of media. We’re basically building our digital tribe and what I love about Instagram is the fact that you can reach so many people. Now, even non-Muslim men and women are hearing us and following us.”
“I’m French-Algerian, I immigrated to France with my family in 2000. My aim is to introduce theories to people with texts and memes to raise awareness and do so without formatting myself to academic requirements. In France, there aren’t many platforms that embrace self-education and exploring post-colonial or gender studies. Through my account, I try to clarify concepts and share reading lists, so my audience can make sense of our global world and its issues with a critical eye. In France, we only teach students about such themes at a post-graduate level, which means that only a few privileged (most commonly white) people have access to this knowledge. That’s why I think social media is a great and revolutionary way to diffuse research and change the world.”
@baddunes, founder of @laviedunemarocaine
“My platform wants to combat taboos and break down the stigma around sexual harassment in Morocco. I invite women to write to me anonymously about what they’ve been through and share their story to help heal their trauma. The result is an outpouring of extremely heartfelt and unfiltered letters, as nothing protects women who are victims of harassment in Morocco. At some point I was receiving more than 200 messages a day. I hope to create a movement to end gender discrimination and sexual harassment.”