It’s Blackout Tuesday, a day promoted by activists to observe, mourn and bring about policy change in the wake of the death of George Floyd. This movement has spread on social media, where organizations, brands and individuals are posting solemn messages featuring stark black backgrounds, sometimes tagging the posts with #BlackLivesMatter.
Here’s the problem. While these posts may be well-intended, several activists and influencers have pointed out that posting a blank black image with a bunch of tags clogs up critical channels of information and updates. Protests are still raging around the country. Arrests are piling up by the thousands. Visibility for different groups and activist projects are key right now. And one of the most common ways to keep track of all of this is by monitoring or searching tags.
“We know that’s it no intent to harm but to be frank, this essentially does harm the message,” mental health advocate and Black Lives Matter activist Kenidra Woods posted on Twitter. “We use hashtag to keep ppl updated. PLS stop using the hashtag for black images!!” A video scroll of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Instagram proves her point: It’s row after row of black squares, with very few posts of note in between.
Don’t use the #BlackLivesMatter tag, activists say
There are two issues here: One, the actual tags used on Blackout Tuesday posts. Two, the actual purpose of posting a black image in the first place.
When you post an image with a tag on, say, Twitter or Instagram, it gets automatically added to a searchable feed, which people can find using that tag. It’s a common way for people to monitor a situation or interest. And since people have been including the #BlackLivesMAtter tag, in the words of activist Feminista Jones, the protests have been erased from Instagram.
“When you check the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, it’s no longer videos, helpful information, resources, documentation of the injustice, it’s rows of black screens,” music artist Kehlani explained on her Instagram story.
People want to keep the information flowing
Blackout Tuesday gained traction from the work of music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, who led an effort in the music community to pause normal business operations on June 2nd “in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard.”
As the movement grew, the notion filtered down to individuals and brands who have vowed to not post any content on June 2nd in deference to the situation.
However, there’s concern that while what amounts to a virtual moment of silence may be a powerful reminder to some, it comes at a time when the voices of black activists and advocates are needed the most.
Rapper Lil Nas X was critical of the movement on Twitter. “I just really think this is the time to push as hard as ever,” he wrote. “I don’t think the movement has ever been this powerful. we don’t need to slow it down by posting nothing. we need to spread info and be as loud as ever.”
However, some people have taken the call to action to mean a pause on posting about personal things or issues unrelated to Black Lives Matter or the ongoing protests rather than complete silence. Some widely shared posts about the day encourage people to refrain from self-promotion and use their presence on various platforms to uplift members of the black community instead.