How does someone become an activist? Usually, the question conjures up images of people protesting in the streets, actively raising money for a cause, or going to events—whether IRL or virtually—to share their stories. But nowadays, there are other ways for people to speak up and make their voices heard to spread information about social issues. 

In particular, social media has become a key part of how activist spaces build their groups of supporters and get traction to make a larger impact. But out of all of the online platforms out there, Instagram activism has become an especially important part of the digital social justice ecosystem.

Here’s what you need to know about social activism on Instagram in 2021.

What Is Instagram Activism?

Instagram activism in its current form began popping up in the late 2010s. It generally uses well-known design principles, easy-to-digest aesthetics, and pithy captions to make political and social justice issues easy for people from many different backgrounds to understand. Given that Instagram is a mobile-first app in a world glued to smartphones, it’s also accessible for more people, especially younger audiences, than traditional media sources.

A big part of activism on Instagram is that it’s highly shareable, so that users on the platform can show their followers what they’re learning and what other people in their circles should take a look at, too. For example, a series of Instagram slides may talk about a current event and provide historical context behind it. Or, someone could list the latest resources to help a particular social cause and encourage followers to spread the word or help out. And in other cases, activism on Instagram is done via a specific quote or image that draws users in and makes them pay attention to what’s in a meatier caption.

Overall, think of Instagram activism as giving a brand refresh to many more complex and complicated social issues and allowing a wider swath of people to engage with them.

Examples of Instagram Activism

Social media movements are all over the platform, but there are a number of patterns to how Instagram activism aesthetics look nowadays. It’s pretty easy to spot the similarities even just scrolling through the popular #activism hashtag on the platform.

Creating Shareable Art

Image via Instagram
Image via Instagram

Reproductive justice artivist Caitlin Blunnie (@liberaljane) recently posted this graphic calling attention to gender-based harassment and discrimination and the fact that many people are told they “deserve” it because of what they’re wearing or where they are when an incident takes place. Her post doesn’t necessarily contain a specific call to action; it’s more about bringing awareness to a common problem for many people worldwide.

Using Slides for Good

Image via Instagram
Image via Instagram

Popular account @soyouwanttotalkabout breaks down a number of social issues through slides, utilizing up to 10 different graphics in each post to showcase basic information about an issue. This graphic, for instance, illustrates statistics and important recent development and Asian American-related hate crimes and what people can do about them.

While a post like this doesn’t contain everything there is to know about these hate crimes, the idea is to raise the consciousness of people who may not have heard about this issue otherwise and to start making them think about how to better engage with it in the future.

How Slides Are Used for Activism

Sometimes people use a single Instagram graphic to illustrate a particular point or quote or phrase and then add more context in a caption, but often Instagram’s slides feature is used to convey a larger number of resources or to tell a bigger story rather than just explaining what happened during a sole incident or multiple reasons why someone should act.

How to Become an Instagram Activist Yourself

Wondering how to run an activist Instagram account? Getting started is as easy as opening an Instagram account, finding something to share, and clicking “Post.” However, creating original, beautiful, shareable content takes a few more steps.

Step 1: Confirm That Information Is Accurate

One of the biggest criticisms of Instagram activism is the accuracy of the information that’s included in these viral posts. When it comes to finding information to put out into the world, checking reputable sources and verifying facts from multiple places is crucial to ensure that new posts don’t give way to more misinformation on the internet. That can cause more harm than good, even if a post was made with the best of intentions.

Step 2: Come Up With Shareable Designs

It’s no surprise that a big component of Instagram activism is its gorgeous artwork and thoughtful designs that, in many ways, look just like images used by brands. If the image isn’t something that people would share, it won’t gain traction in the same way or let more people know about a certain cause.

Image via Instagram
Image via Instagram

The beloved account @recipesforselflove grew a loyal following over the years by creating incredible designs with straightforward taglines and powerful captions that included people from all identities. Each post is beautiful, quotable, and definitely shareable. Users can also scroll through this feed and see someone who looks like them.

For newbies to the world of Instagram activism and shareable design, there are classes from skilled artists like Danielle Coke and Nikkolas Smith to learn more about not just the aesthetics of Instagram activist posts but also how to create content that truly changes people’s minds and then the world.

Art Can Change the World

Instagram Illustration: Make Shareable Art for Social Change.

Step 3: Use Relevant Hashtags

One of the most important aspects of making social activism movements Instagram-worthy is making sure other people can see posts through hashtags. In addition to using popular hashtags like #activism or #feminism, the more specific to a cause, the better. For instance, someone with a post discussing racism might tag #blacklivesmatter, #blackhistory, and #nojusticenopeace. A quick search of hashtags on a related post can show what other hashtags Instagram activists discussing similar issues are including in their captions

Step 4: Don’t Limit Activism Solely to Instagram

Ever heard the term “slacktivism”? It’s often used to describe people who put something on their social media channels related to a cause and don’t actually go out and do something about it. Once posts are out on the web, it’s just as critical to show up for the issues that those posts talk about and to not just think of Instagram as the be-all, end-all of what it means to be an activist or change the world. 

Image via Instagam
Image via Instagam

Racial justice educator and spiritual activist Rachel Ricketts (@rachelricketts) is a great example of someone creating stunning art on Instagram but turning it into IRL action. She’s led antiracism workshops, written a book on the subject, and actively directed followers to little-known efforts where their help is needed, all in addition to posting on the platform.

While social media is an empowering tool for organizing people, building community, and spreading resources, there needs to be more action than just sharing a beautiful post on grid or on Stories. That’s where the real change begins.

Become an Activist Through Art

Artivism: Creative Inspiring Art for Change.