Instagram feeds full of flawless people, the best moments of strangers’ lives, and superficial selfies. Using Instagram only for the consumption of such superficial content is a privilege. Therefore, criticizing the meaningfulness of these social media and voluntarily distancing oneself from them is as well. Because for refugees and people affected by humanitarian crises, Instagram offers opportunities. Important opportunities like being visible and getting a voice.
In traditional commercial media reporting, the visibility of humanitarian abuses is dependent on the availability of resources and news factors. Stays for research in affected places mean a high financial outlay. Finances and time that journalists often do not have. Other hurdles include difficult access to sources on the ground. As a result, there is either no reporting at all or superficial reporting when another newsworthy event occurs. What does this mean for affected people? They remain overlooked. Instagram as a worldwide social medium makes it possible and easier for affected people to show their pictures, situations and experiences. Aid organizations like UNHCR provide information around humanitarian situations on their channels and can benefit from the large reach on Instagram.
Highlighting real humanitarian grievances and enabling people to speak out is an important part of raising awareness and thus for social change. The next level of mobilization is to convince people to become active.
Taking action on Instagram
One form of « becoming active » is achieved, for example, through donations. People are convinced of a project or organization and can support it financially. Digital possibilities have changed the way donations are collected. Whereas in the past donations could mostly be facilitated on a local or national level, nowadays global appeals for donations are possible. In addition, donation budgets are no longer needed, as content can be created and distributed free of charge on social Media like Instagram. Any person can basically create an account and try to generate donations through compelling content.
As a good example, the Instagram account @chooselove is leading the way. The non-profit organization was founded in 2015 by a few friends in response to the refugee crisis in Europe. And how did they do it? They launched the hashtag #chooselove and started a foundraising – successfully. The account now has 404k subscribers, including many private accounts but also other humanitarian organizations and politicians.
«We center the voices and visibility of refugees, aslum seekers and forcibly displace people along migration routes, globally. We are powered by you and by our vision – a world that chosses love and justice every day, for everyone.»
Instagram Story chooselove, December 2021
Let’s stick with hashtags. The goal of a hashtag is to associate social media content with a specific topic, event, subject, or topic of conversation. They make it easier to find posts on those specific topics because hashtags group all social media content together with the same hashtag.
So far, so clear. But how can hashtags be used for other things like to superficially showcase a #beachday and #perfectnightout?
Hashtags provide a simple tool to mobilize people and build a shared identity. Individuals but also organizations can use hashtags in posts to send a signal, draw attention to an opinion or even actively create a call to action. A current example from Switzerland is the hashtag #evakuierenJETZT. The hashtag shows a clear call to action for the population to engage with humanitarian issues and advocate for the reception of refugees. Their content informs people about current ideas, projects, laws, crises and leaves a space for affected people to show themselves to the world.
Hashtags are linked to each other like in a network. When a hashtag is used or searched for frequently, or certain content is viewed with a hashtag, the algorithm increases the likelihood of other related content being displayed. These connections between hashtags can be important when planning humanitarian content because visibility can be increased. The Picture below represents the network relationship between #refugeeswelcome and other hashtags.
#refugeeswelcome , #LeaveNoOneBehind , #everydayrefugees are examples of humanitarian hashtags that aim to raise awareness of solidarity and morality and to open up the discourse. They are used by private accounts as well as from humanitarian organizations. The goal is to convey values and socio-political points of view and, in the best case, to increase political participation.
Turning strangers into friends
And what does Instagram offer for the refugees themselves? The easy access to the portal enables people to maintain social contacts, make new contacts or obtain information about the new country and culture. This can help refugees overcome some of the social isolation and feelings of loneliness. The low entry barriers also allow small projects to reach people. One example is @gemeinsamznacht from Bern, which aims to bring people with a refugee background into contact with the local population over a joint dinner, thus turning strangers into friends.
Instagram enables more people, small and big organizations than ever to speak and be heard, even when conventional activism is not allowed. Everyone can have a voice, trying to start a social movement, encourage solidarity, starts funding money, getting in touch with integrational initiatives and share real experiences with quite low barriers to entry. That’s super important for and sometimes forgotten in the negative-driven debate around social media and Instagram.
So what about you?
Last but not least: Here is a guideline on how to create a public Instagram account. So simple, so why not get active with an idea yourself?
Author: Alice Huber