#BlackOutTuesday was created to amplify Black voices, then was weaponized against the very people it was supposed to boost.
Last Tuesday, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw nothing but black boxes and a simple caption: #BlackOutTuesday. I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled through all the darkness until I saw another post asking users not to include the hashtags used by Black Lives Matter, as their hashtags are used to disseminate useful information for the movement. I saw a few variations on the black box, whether there was a barely visible “Black Lives Matter” or some other statement within the box.
I didn’t really understand what I was seeing.
I started seeing corrective posts asking that if the BLM hashtag was used, to delete the post completely and then repost because the algorithms had already “picked up” the posts with the wrong hashtag and it was still gumming up that feed.
Then I saw my Black friends posting black boxes and I was like, “What the hell did I miss?”
To say I was confused was an understatement.
I finally took to Twitter to find out what the heck was up and found a lot of Black folks were asking the same question. And here I thought I was the one missing something because I’m half Black. (I miss a lot of things because of that, if I’m going to be honest.)
The main question was, “How does posting a Black box amplify Black voices?”
Confused? Yep. Everyone was.
And that was intentional.
Someone hijacked the movement and used it to suppress Black voices. Let me say that again —
Someone. Hijacked. The. Movement. And. Used. It. To. Suppress. Black. Voices.
Let me take a step back for a moment, in case you missed it.
Last Tuesday, a pair of Black women in the music industry called for a pause. A pause to reflect on the situation at hand and a pause to recognize the impact that Black culture has had on music, while the music industry has shamelessly profited from the work of these artists (and often not sharing the profits in kind). It was a digital protest, intended to disrupt the status quo and spark some meaningful discussion that would lead to action. It was asked that White people reflect and have some hard conversations and Black people rest and care for their mental health (because this shit is exhausting, folks).
And yet somehow….
The message that was call for was twisted into, “post a black square on social media as a show of solidarity” and amplified. Big time.
This was the social media equivalent of gerrymandering and illegal purges of voter rolls. It was intentional digital protest suppression.
Social media feeds were filled with black boxes. Empty voids that not only took up space by White folks trying to show solidarity, but hid Black voices. Instead of sharing Black artists and muting their own voices, White people were taking up meaningless space and bringing attention to themselves by doing so. It was the exact opposite effect of the original intent.
In the social world, when something is trending, we jump on the bandwagon without question. Once I had noticed several of my friends of color posting black boxes, I realized something was seriously wrong.
And I wasn’t the only one. The same Twitter feed that I stumbled upon as I was questioning the legitimacy of this movement was where I ultimately found resolve that we had, in fact, been mislead by #BlackOutTuesday.
As you can see in the graphic above, the two messages are not at all the same. I’m not sure if the imposter post was a well-meaning White person (y’all mess things up a lot) who misunderstood the mission, or if it was more Russian hackers looking to suppress votes, create partisan divides, spread misinformation, and delegitimize our election. Either way, the impact was not positive.
The voices of the Black creators of this movement were silenced. The impostor posts were trending over the original post. Chaos and confusion continued throughout the day as the point was completely missed.
It’s easy to fall into this trap. Social media has turned us into robots that seek out confirmation bias and blindly repost, giving false messages both visibility and a megaphone.
I am asking you to question everything before you repost it. Know your sources. Know who started an online movement and why. Know that you are supporting the vision of the creator, not someone else’s paraphrase.
Social media can be one endless game of telephone, if we let it.
At the end of the day, social media campaigns have their place. When it comes to spreading awareness, they can be great. But in order for things to truly change, we have got to do more than the easy, empty show of solidarity by posting on social media. We need action. We need you to vote for leaders who will enact policy that will end the systems and programs that continually suppress Black voices and ultimately, Black lives.