explainer

On Tuesday, our Instagram feeds were filled with black boxes. Here’s how it went so ‘wrong’.

Yesterday, you would have likely seen a cascade of empty posts as you scrolled through your Instagram feed. Solid black boxes, some accompanied by hashtags about the Black Lives Matter movement or captions about anti-racism protests.

These posts — the millions and millions of them — were part of an initiative called Black Out Tuesday.

The social media campaign was born from the conversation about race that’s swelled since the death of George Floyd last month.

The mother of George Floyd’s daughter gives an emotional press conference. (Post continues below.)

Video by ABC News (USA)

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on May 25 after being restrained facedown by police in the U.S. city of Minneapolis. The officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds before Floyd fell unconscious was arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter on Friday. By then, large-scale Black Lives Matter protests had broken out in major cities across the United States, as people rallied against systematic racism.

Many posting those black squares on Tuesday were doing so in solidarity with those protestors, or at least to amplify their message of equality and social justice.

But almost as soon as it began, Black Out Tuesday was accused of backfiring. Spectacularly.

So how did a well-intentioned campaign seem to go so wrong?

Let’s take a look.

How a music industry campaign became a global statement.

Late last week, Atlantic Records executive Jamila Thomas and Platoon Records’ Brianna Agyemang launched a campaign called #TheShowMustBePaused, in which they appealed for the music industry “take a beat for an honest reflective, and productive conversation” on Tuesday, June 2.

“Use this time on Tuesday to come together and figure out how we can hold our partners, colleagues and companies alike, accountable to come up with and execute a plan that actively supports and protects the VERY CULTURE that it profits from,” Agyemang wrote in an Instagram post.

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The initiative, which Agyemang dubbed Black Out Tuesday, was publicly backed by several major record labels, some of which pledged donations to the George Floyd Memorial Fund and urged their social media followers to do the same.

 

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But in the days since, the campaign spread well beyond the music industry and morphed into something entirely different.

Millions marked Black Out Tuesday by posting blank, black boxes to Instagram and Facebook in an apparent expression of solidarity for the black community. It’s unclear where the particular format started; it doesn’t appear to have been part of the original campaign. But it took hold nonetheless.

Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Kylie Jenner, Idris Elba, Jamie Oliver, Drake, Tracee Ellis Ross, Rihanna and Katy Perry were among the celebrities leading the charge with empty posts, and at the time of writing, there are more than 29 million entries under the Instagram hashtag #blackouttuesday.

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But within hours, a key problem emerged.

Many of the first blackout posts also included the ‘blacklivesmatter’ hashtag. This meant that that posts containing important and timely information about the movement (resources, protest details, police actions, ways to aid the cause, and so on) were buried beneath an avalanche of blank boxes.

Music artist Lil Nas X was among those to point out that the campaign was, in fact, masking the reality of the situation.

People who participated in the blackout were (and are) urged to edit their post to remove #blacklivesmatter or #blm, and opt instead for #blackouttuesday.

Agyemang echoed concerns in a subsequent Instagram statement, in which she urged people not to co-opt the Black Lives Matter feed and stressed, “the purpose [of The Show Must Be Paused] was never to mute ourselves. The purpose is to disrupt. The purpose is to pause from business as usual.”

Another criticism of the movement that circulated on social media was that it risked being tokenistic or performative; simply uploading a tile, in place of amplifying black voices or engaging in meaningful discussion.

It’s the classic question about whether something is better than nothing.

But the mere fact that so many millions of people took part, suggests at least that there’s a groundswell of people looking for ways to be supportive, to be on the right side of history, to do the right thing. And that’s one heck of a start.

Here are some ideas for what we can all do next.

If you have the means to do so, you can actively help the Black Lives Matter cause in Australia and the United States by donating to organisations working towards racial justice, such as the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance and the Justice for David Dungay Fund to support the family of David Dungay Junior, an Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney jail. You can also donate to the Black Lives Matter Global Network here. If you can, consider regularly donating to Indigenous-run organisations and First Nations causes.

Other active ways to help include signing petitions, attending peaceful protests, listening to BIPOC, raising their voices, educating yourself on racism and privilege and ensuring we are all taking part in the conversation to dismantle systemic racism.

Feature Image: Instagram/Twitter.