HAVE YOU BEEN WOKE-WASHED?
Are your social media channels warping your perception of the world?
By Philippa Mwayi / 6 December 2019
Illustration by Philippa Mwayi
Woke-washing, as defined by Urban Dictionary, is 'using social justice as a marketing strategy'.
You may have seen some of the top brands using woke-washing by releasing merchandise that celebrates pride, which usually consists of plastering rainbow flags across a pre-existing product in an attempt to present the brand as inclusive. Yet when it comes to donating to LGBTQIA+ charities or ensuring there are processes in place to allow for a diverse and fair workplace, these brands suddenly fall silent.
Whilst brands that are attempting (and often failing) to woke-wash their customers should be called out, you might not realise that social media is woke-washing us all, especially those of you that consider yourselves 'too woke' to fall victim to it.
We all know that what we see on our Facebook feed, Instagram explore page and Twitter news tab is tailored to our preferences and isn't necessarily an accurate representation of what's going on in the world. However, it took me until very recently to make the link and realise that this tailored content meant my view of people's opinions and how far we'd come with regards to social justice was entirely warped. Obviously, I knew following people with similar views to mine meant my feed would reflect that, but it's so easy to forget that these apps take note of every single post you comment on, like, and even simply click on, so not only your feed but your entire experience on social media is shaped to your preferences. This sounds great, but it’s also dangerous...
Take, for example, everyone's favourite topic, Brexit.
I remember before the results were announced being so certain, to the point of arrogance, that the outcome would be that the UK had voted to remain in the European Union. No matter where I looked, 'vote remain' was the only message I was seeing, so as you can imagine, on 23rd June 2016, I received a very big shock.
The same can be said for feminism: if you were basing your perception of how 'woke' the world currently was on the content that appears on my social media feed, you'd think we were a pretty progressive bunch. Every day on social media, I am overwhelmed with success stories from inspirational women and movements that are allowing women to feel empowered and to tell their stories. So again, when I heard the news earlier this year that Alabama passed a law that criminalised abortion, I felt both infuriated and confused. I was so sure progression was being made, but instances like this suggest the exact opposite.
There's also the fact that those with a more progressive mindset are arguably more likely to be active on social media, which again, massively warps our perceptions of 'how far we've come'. I use this term in quotation marks as I often hear my favourite line: 'feminism has gone too far', and when there are 9.2 million instances of #feminism on Instagram, I can see why some believe we are rapidly approaching – or have already achieved – equality. However, despite the conversation of gender rights appearing so popular on social media, as demonstrated by the tragedy taking place in Alabama (and far too many other locations), it seems this isn't translating into the real world.
I don't want to be cynical; there are people dedicating their lives to fighting for social justice and their efforts are not completely in vain. We have come a long way with regards to equality and if it wasn't for these conversations happening on social media, a lot of people including myself wouldn't feel the same sense of empowerment, freedom and even safety. I just want to highlight that although we've come a long way, the fight is by no means over, or even close to it. If you consider yourself in any way an activist, please don't get lulled into a false sense of social media security like I did and think it's time to put your feet up. We aren't there yet, so if you feel a burning rage inside you whenever you think of social injustice, the world needs your voice now more than ever!
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