Today is Blackout Tuesday, an initiative started by a pair of black, women executives in the music industry, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, originally with the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. The idea was to draw attention to the ongoing protests that sprang up across the U.S. last week in response to the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Countless social media users have been posting black squares to their social media platforms — and to Instagram in particular — but, by using Black Lives Matter hashtags, instead of amplifying the message, they're drowning out useful, information-laden posts and those documenting the ongoing battles between protesters and police, many of which have turned violent.
Consequently, activists are urging those who want to post a black square in support of Blackout Tuesday to use the #BlackoutTuesday hashtag, rather than #BLM or #BlackLivesMatter, or to avoid hashtags entirely.
Writer Anthony James Williams took to Twitter to highlight the problem, explaining that using BLM hashtags on Instagram "is intentionally and unintentionally hiding critical information we are using on the ground and online." Activist Kenidra Woods echoed the sentiment, adding that, "We know that’s it no intent to harm but to be frank, this essentially does harm the message."
A blackout of distracting content, not a day off — The original intention behind Blackout Tuesday was that musicians would refrain from releasing new content so as not to dilute the crucial messaging of the protests. The point was not to get people to stop posting to social media entirely. With more protests scheduled for Tuesday night in cities across the U.S., and with some like New York instituting curfews and other measures to try and quell them, harnessing social media to share information is more important than ever.
What you can do — If you've already posted something for Blackout Tuesday and used BLM hashtags you can edit the post or delete it, if editing is not an option. But more importantly, you can use your platform to raise awareness, find protests in your area to join, document and share instances of injustice if you witness them, or simply encourage others to do likewise.
Social media is merely a tool, what we choose to use it for is up to us. In times like these, using it to boost rather than silence voices is essential. Government and law enforcement are doing enough to try and silence protesters, and Facebook continues to allow the administration to spread hate with impunity. The last thing protesters need is good-intentioned-but-misplaced efforts aiding those in power from muzzling those demanding long-overdue change.
If you'd like to find out how to donate to protest-related causes, lock down your phone before heading out to protest yourself, or are looking for other ways to get involved if protesting isn't an option for you, we've got a comprehensive post over here.