The reason Instagram advocacy can work, Palm says, is because you’re meeting young people where they already are: online. “Maybe your congressman doesn’t follow you on Instagram, but it’s about getting people informed,” he explains. “It’s one thing for me to go on my [Instagram] story and be like, ‘This bill is horrible, like, okay?’ I’m screaming into the void. Instagram advocacy is good when it doesn’t start and stop on Instagram.”
Noelle, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy, works in an industry where she can’t attend protests if she wants to keep her job. Last summer, as millions poured into the streets to march against the treatment of Black Americans, Noelle felt helpless. To cope with that feeling, she started posting on Instagram. Then she took her involvement one step further and started soliciting donations for organizations such as Campaign Zero, No New Jails, and the Innocence Project.
Throughout the summer, Noelle says, her posts inspired her followers to donate around $3,000, which she kept track of in a spreadsheet. “It’s important to really put our money where our mouth is and take it beyond a quick social media post,” she says. “But everybody has to start somewhere. Maybe sharing that one social media post to their Instagram story is a first step for someone in their journey as an ally or activist.”
Noelle says her “woke journey” was heavily influenced by social media. She was a freshman in college when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, pushing the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of American politics. Noelle followed the events via Twitter as civil unrest erupted after Brown’s death and the subsequent acquittal of the police officer who shot him. Those days on Twitter shaped her political perspective. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for the online activism of others back then,” Noelle says.
Schultz, who is part of the team behind VerifyThis, says that even as she fights online misinformation, she’s hopeful. “People having the urge to get involved and spread awareness — at its core — is helpful,” she says. But, she adds, viewing activism as a trend can be dangerous. “It’s this weird mix of wanting to do good but they only share or re-share something that’s aesthetically pleasing. So these posts we see are made… with some beautiful graphic design and these accounts have no sourcing. Most of the time, you don’t even know who’s running the account. So for people who are not news literate, it’s beautiful and has a great photo and what appears to be founded statistics.”
Schultz says she understands the desire to share beautiful things, but the top priority of the VerifyThis team is being transparent about their sourcing and where information comes from. VerifyThis readers can even submit their own claims that will then be fact-checked according to rigorous journalistic standards. Schultz says she’s overwhelmed by the amount of information and misinformation on Instagram, but she tackles each piece one by one, verifying truths and debunking lies.