Photo source: Emily Burack/HeyAlmna (screenshots via Instagram; background via Getty Images).
As I scrolled through Instagram stories the week of October 7th, it was clear something was wrong with the world. Infographic after infographic, statistic after statistic, brightly colored and bubble-lettered repostings of “What happened in Israel” and “Who to believe.” One would have been surprised to see civilians and major brands alike taking stances on the complex decades of strife between Palestine and Israel–if it wasn’t the way we responded to every major issue.
The relationship between modern conflict and social media has been widely explored in recent weeks, as some media outlets refer to the war between Israel and Hamas as “The War that Broke Social Media.” I wish not to speak on the vicious ways social media has been used by certain groups to humiliate and traumatize the friends and family of those taken hostage, nor the way the lack of access to the internet could register as a war crime. I wish to speak on the way I, as a non-involved American citizen, am socially expected to make a stance.
Elizabeth Spiers, a New York Times Opinions journalist, explains the phenomena, “There’s a facile version of taking a stand on social media that generates righteous backpatting but reduces complex issues to a simple yes or no. Taking simplistic stands can also lead to twisting words.” The kind of thinking perpetuated by one-sided story posts is void of nuance and further powers hostility on social media. 280-character posts on X, formerly Twitter, cannot relay vital information on the complexity of such a war– even if you were the Poet Laureate.
A certain sense of nuance is required to fully understand the dilemma of social media virtue signaling. If an organization, brand, or person is affected or related to an international issue, it is well within their right to make a statement of any kind, or none at all. My contention with posting on social media concerning international conflict is not with these parties but with groups or persons completely unrelated. For example, famous pop singer Justin Bieber posted an Instagram story with the words “Pray for Israel” over an image of ruined buildings in the Gaza Strip. Without proper research or attention to detail, A-list celebrities can share false information with their millions of impressionable followers, just as Bieber did.
Later in her article, Spiers states, “Simple binaries imply simple solutions. And it’s much more pleasant to tell yourself you stand on the side of good, against evil, than to question whether the lines of demarcation were drawn correctly.” In reflecting on brands, celebrities, and corporations, it becomes evident that as a society (hopefully) oriented towards truth and human rights, we do not need Mac Cosmetics or Celsius Energy Drinks staking their plots on the forefront of war. In all reality, it does not matter what infographic they post; it’s about where they spend their money.
MSNBC reporter Rachel Greenspan stated, “There is now a value-based currency in our social media landscape that did not appear to exist when Instagram launched in 2010. We’re now asking ourselves: Did I share the right thing? Did I share enough? We’re treating our social media profiles as communications channels for the general public.”
My issue is not with posting one’s feelings or emotions on a topic–it’s rather the assumption that we HAVE to post, and silence is considered a statement in and of itself. This notion discourages researching, educating, contemplating, and ultimately, staying quiet and listening to those actually involved. Sometimes it’s vital to simply not speak. Giving oneself time to process, grapple with, and evolve through sometimes traumatic media is the decision of an educated and competent internet user. It takes sensitivity, refinement, and a humble acceptance of one’s power and voice allowed by social media to craft a poignant post– and many do not consider these things.
This article was edited by Katherine Brennan