On the morning of June 2, Instagram users searching for information related to the Black Lives Matter movement were greeted by a flood of black squares.
This movement, dubbed Blackout Tuesday, was started by two black women in the music marketing industry under the name The Show Must Be Paused in response to the death of George Floyd. It was intended to limit information unrelated to the Black Lives Matter movement for a day so that informative posts about the protests and movement could be more easily accessed on the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
Instead, this effort harmed the movement more than it helped as well-intentioned participants and fame-seeking influencers, ignoring the meaning behind Blackout Tuesday, drowned out the voices of activists with black squares.
To take part in Blackout Tuesday, non-black participants were supposed to post a solid black square and nothing else to show solidarity with protesters and amplify messages from the black community.
What caused confusion and ultimately the downfall of the Instagram movement was that many people made the mistake of posting the square along with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which was meant to be left clear for informational posts that day.
Tags are used to categorize posts, and people who want to look for helpful information regarding the Black Lives Matter Movement would generally search under the Black Lives Matter hashtag. But due to the colossal amount of blank black squares tagged with #BLM or #BlackLivesMatter, all helpful information was swept away that day.
The blame for this disaster falls mainly on the issue of poor communication and organization. Despite the well-informed contributors who mentioned not using the hashtag, not enough people got the message in time, or simply did not care enough to follow instructions. Thus, a promising internet campaign was ruined.
The Blackout Tuesday dilemma worsened when participants decided to take things a step further and announced that to better use their silence to help further the movement’s cause, they would log off Instagram for the entire day.
This backfired as more people began copying these actions.
“The people with enough resources and fame to create real change in the industry are just…logged off,” Zoe Haylock wrote for Vulture magazine.
Examples of this include Kylie Jenner, Tom Holland and Rihanna, who did not open any of her personal or business social media accounts.
That afternoon, posts that described how content was getting blacked-out due to the incorrect use of hashtags began to appear. Activists and leaders of activist groups were speaking out about how Blackout Tuesday was a detriment to the movement.
Activist Michelle Taylor, better known as Femenista Jones, tweeted that the black squares had erased the protests from Instagram, and co-founder of Campaign Zero and activist Brittany Cunningham, in an article for NBC News, asked media users to reconsider participating in Blackout Tuesday.
“It appears that the righteous efforts of two black women in the music industry who created #TheShowMustBePaused for their industry to learn and develop new plans for racial justice got co-opted to create digital protest suppression,” Cunningham said in an Instagram post.
Although the use of social media to champion justice is a good idea, events need to be planned out with greater care in order to prevent incidents like these from happening again.