Instagram is no longer an escape from reality

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Photos of beaches and confectionery had already given way to environmental and feminist slogans, but the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic have accelerated Instagram’s transformation into a privileged platform for activists, ten years after its creation.

“A lot of users have felt a little silly posting a picture of a smoothie thinking about what people are going through, unemployment, illness, racism, etc.”, remarks Rebecca Davis, who created in 2016 Rallyandrise, an account dedicated to daily political engagement.

In recent months, its subscriber base has doubled from 10,000 people to 24,000. “It’s not that we can no longer post pretty pictures, but there is now a search for balance”, adds this New Yorker.

Last May, the death of George Floyd, an African American suffocated by the knee of a white police officer, sparked an enduring wave of protests in the United States against police brutality and racial injustice.

At the same time, the great confinement blew up the time spent on social networks. As the US election approached and with the scourge of disinformation, “people were desperate for advice on how to mobilize,” says Rebecca.

The calls to sign petitions, make donations or send text messages to elected officials have multiplied on the wire.

The right target

Celebrities like Hillary Clinton or Kourtney Kardashian gave the keys to their accounts for 24 hours to African-American personalities, to showcase their word.

“Instagram works very well for political mobilization, better than other platforms,” says Emily Patterson, social media manager for the powerful civil rights organization ACLU.

The artistic photos app, which surpassed one billion users in 2018, failed to uncover its political potential in 2020.

A first turning point was taken in 2016, with the launch of stories, those posts that disappear in 24 hours. The network has also gradually added sharing tools.

Above all, audiences targeted by political movements – from teenagers to their 30s – are widely present on Instagram.

“On Facebook, there are also your parents, your exes, all the people you met even once,” notes Emily Patterson. “On Instagram it’s the right mix of friends, communities of interest, and activist organizations… and it’s the platform where people spend the most time.”

The results are tangible. During a campaign against the authorities’ separation of children from their migrant parents at the Mexican border, “we received complaints from government lawyers who were fed up with people picking on them on their behalf. networks. (…) and it came mainly from Instagram. “

Take by surprise

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has rallied young people around the world to her fight for the climate mainly through the app.

Ecology goes particularly well with the platform: the licked photos of polar bears whose habitat is disappearing or those of koalas with bandages because of the Australian fires have made many Internet users join their cause.

In Egypt, the resurgence of the feminist movement #Metoo began with the posting of testimonials on the Instagram account Police Assault.

Activists and associations appreciate the variety of tools, and the possibility of making long formats, like thumbnails to scroll to list arguments.

“People surf first for fun, they have to be taken by surprise”, analysis Dr Noc, an American immunologist who embarked on scientific activism at the start of the pandemic to explain the coronavirus.

“You have to attract their attention from the first seconds, give them information in bite-size, easy-to-digest,” he says.

This scientist spends hours making his videos for the TikTok application, reposted on Instagram, where he is followed by 20,000 people, against 200,000 on TikTok.

“TikTok’s algorithm allows for more growth regardless of the number of subscribers,” he notes.

The very young platform with 700 million users worldwide threatens to dethrone Insta in the game of the most connected application of the moment. Many activists already prefer it for its potential in terms of virality. They keep Instagram all the same … for privacy.

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