Can Instagram slideshows save the world?

  • Words Sarah Manavis

Do you know what’s happening in the Middle East? Maybe you want to understand microaggressions, impostor syndrome or the foundations of feminism. The good news is you can now find everything you need to know while scrolling Instagram.

Few social media trends in the last decade have taken hold quite as quickly as the made-for-Instagram infographic. These slideshows, usually shared on the Stories function of Instagram, where images disappear after 24 hours, are now an unavoidable part of the social media user experience.1 They have been heralded as a creative new form of activism, one that is inherently tied to Instagram’s functionality and its prioritizing of eye-catching visuals. 

In the last year, though, communicating on the most complex issues of world politics and social justice via a handful of pastel-hued slides has come to feel overly simplistic; failing to tackle complex issues with the nuance they require. While some can be useful and educational, these infographics hav...

( 1 ) These slideshows have now become ripe for parody. In spring 2021, when the attempted formation of the European Super League was grabbing headlines, several meme accounts published faux-sincere infographics with headlines such as “What’s happening in football and what you can do to help.”

( 2 ) The term “woke washing” is used to describe how some corporations use infographics related to social justice. For example, a fast fashion brand posting resources on racial equity and feminism can obscure the fact that they are actively harming marginalized people through unfair labor practices.

( 3 ) There are, of course, many infographic creators who apply equally rigorous standards to the content they produce for social media. For example, the data journalist Mona Chalabi regularly publishes her sources and explains how she turns raw data into eye-catching illustration.

( 4 ) Similarly, the graphic design platform Canva has had a big hand in defining the appearance of the current wave of infographics. In its 2020 end of year report, the site boasted that over 330,000 Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth templates were downloaded, which the site made available for free.

( 5 ) We also process information far more effectively when it is presented in a picture; according to research by the company that makes Post-it notes, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text.

( 6 ) It seems that viewers are becoming more savvy when it comes to what they expect from brands. Accounts such as @dietprada frequently call brands to account when they post about allyship without real-world action.

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