BY SOO LIM
A new trend capturing attention on Instagram has unwittingly revealed a toxic side of social media activism.
Towards the end of July, thousands of black and white selfies flooded the popular social media site, containing captions promoting the empowerment of women.
But women taking part in the selfie challenge unwittingly found themselves at the centre of a cultural misappropriation storm, when it was revealed the original intention of the challenge was to raise awareness of violence against women in Turkey.
The majority of the women fell victim to so-called “honour killings”, where husbands and male family members believe they are protecting the family from shame or dishonour.
Turkish-American woman Dilek Baykara, who collected donations for the only independently owned shelter for women in Turkey, said despite the misappropriation, the challenge “definitely brought awareness to the western world” about the killings.
“It is definitely one of the most dangerous countries in terms of domestic violence,” Ms Baykara said.
“[If] a girl dates a boy…or if she’s not a virgin, usually either her father will kill her or her brothers will kill her, and they think killing her is a way of preserving their honour.”
Ms Baykara said although the backlash faced by women who took part in the challenge was “awful”, she thought the misunderstanding was still ultimately helpful to spread awareness about the cause.
“That’s not the message guys, bullying people who didn’t know is not the message.”
Instagrammer Monique Evans, who participated in the challenge, said she was under the impression that it was about empowering women when her friends nominated her.
“I thought this seems like a fun thing, so I just did it because I didn’t want [people] to hate me if I don’t post it,” Ms Evans said.
The Instagrammer said although it was the wrong thing to do, the online community should take it easy on those who misappropriated the trend because they were not informed of its origin.
“A lot of people did it unintentionally...it’s not like it was in the messages that they got about posting it.”
Monash University communications and media studies professor Mark Andrejevic said, while raising awareness on social media works, it was ineffective without action.
“Awareness on its own is simply a prelude to action,” Prof Andrejevic said.
“Ideas and awareness do not change the world on their own, but you can’t change the world in a meaningful way without them,” he said.
Prof Andrejevic said any change needed to be long-term to be sustained, which social media activism struggles to achieve due to its “short-attention span”.
“Social media teaches us to pay a lot of attention in relatively short and fickle bursts, following the logic of the ‘trending’ hashtag.”