The rise of Instagram activism

Gaby Flores
The rise of Instagram activism

For quite some time now, Twitter has been seen as the “more woke” social media platform compared to Facebook. As soon as a breaking story hits, Twitter would burst with threads of wisecracks, comments, and related content.

But it was only a matter of time before that fiery activism took to other platforms. As the kids would say, “the revolution is here, and it’s going to be regrammed.”

Regram the uproar

If you’ve been active on Instagram the past few weeks, chances are you’ve seen a post or two that fits the bill. Whether searing political art or informational posts that get down to business, On Instagram, there are now accounts providing ways for people to stay informed and take action no matter where they are.

One such account is @hacktibista_, which relays current news through concise messaging and punchy graphics.

Twitter was initially their platform, but the Hacktibista team ended up uploading on Instagram to amplify a website they designed, which made sending #JunkTerrorBill protest e-mails to the House of Representatives simpler.

The decision to move “wasn’t really planned,” they said. “We later realized that there’s an audience on Instagram. We made a conscious decision to create easy-to-read, bite-sized posts – opting for simple typography with bold contrasting colors enough to catch people’s attention.” Hacktibista said that they now have a few tried-and-tested post templates that they return to as a way to get information out as soon as possible. 

Hacktibista cited the rise of several other activist accounts as sources of inspiration, @artnotterrorism being one of them.

Art Not Terrorism (ANT) calls their space an “online gallery of work by courageous volunteer artists,” but takes it a step further by making these submissions free to disseminate – in the spirit of protest. Heading to Instagram was a natural move given the visual nature of the work they feature, but they also cite accessibility as the main driving force behind their decision. 

Given the rapid pace of today’s news cycle, it takes a concerted community effort to keep these accounts up and running. The ANT team described their contributors and followers as full of generosity and creativity, noting that “they continue to go out of their way to help us keep up to date with current events, as well as ask relevant questions so we can all better educate ourselves together.”

“We even had some volunteers translate our toolkit to Bisaya and Bikolano,” they added.

Art has continually played a key role in shaping political consciousness and giving people a voice, and to ANT, the same holds true in digital. “Our contributors do exactly that – voice out their concerns, show their dissent, express their frustration – through whatever means they know how to. By putting all of this work together, there’s a sort of show of solidarity,” they said. 

Going global

The work of Hacktibista and ANT join a global network of other Instagram accounts that use their platforms to speak out. 

Ienna Fernandez of @decolonialbulaklak, who is based in New York, constantly “takes note of what [she] think may be useful to relay to [her] fellow Filipinos.” To her, the digital age is proving every day that injustice isn’t relegated to a specific region, and understanding the plight of others both home and abroad is a necessary step towards change.

Fernandez pointed to the recent news of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd as the catalyst for using her art to amplify political struggles. 

Working through Decolonial Bulaklak has reinforced her belief that “great artists recognize their power to draw attention to experiences that are often erased, and/or get others to fight for marginalized communities.” These artists know that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, she added.

Ienna said it’s important to “balance aesthetics with accessibility,” explaining her choice to use simple fonts against bright backgrounds. 

Before the pandemic, Fernandez was an ardent community organizer – a role that she expects will continue once she’s able to do so. Hacktibista and ANT are adamant that they will stay active even after lockdown eases up – and even after the Anti-Terror Law has come into effect. (WATCH: The dangers of the Anti-Terrorism Law)  

While ANT has since gotten in touch with their contributors to ask whether they’d like to amend their credits and become anonymous, the team emphasized that they’re still accepting submissions and finding ways to spread information. 

Hacktibista conceded that perhaps their work will be a little more prudent from here on, but challenged enactors and enforcers of the law to “prove that it’s not a weapon to silence dissent and shut down opposition.” It added: “If we back down in cower and fear, then we’ve already lost.” 

Their fight continues – albeit online for now. –

Gaby Flores is a full-time writer and part-time graduate student based in Manila. Her work can be seen in Esquire, Mabuhay Magazine, and Cha Literary Journal. She’s into all things culture, dairy included.