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September 2, 2020



Social Media: A Social Justice Weapon

How some of the biggest brands are using their platform to shift culture.

It’s safe to say that these days, technology plays a massive role in our lives. Our team at Proverb knows this all too well — we use social media for everything. From news updates and networking to ordering our favorite food, it’s hard to imagine a life without apps, notifications, and endless information at our fingertips. But recently, we’ve seen social media take a new shape. Injustices are going viral, Instagram feeds are becoming classrooms, and brands are taking a stand like never before. But as social media activism is rising, we’re seeing the harmful effects of things like “slacktivism.” No matter your stance, it’s undeniable that as social media is manifesting into purpose and action, it’s creating a lifeline for something bigger than us all: the fight for freedom, justice, and equality.

In July 2013, a labor organizer named Alicia Garza used the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in a Facebook post after George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year old Trayvon Martin and walked free. Patrisse Cullors, another community organizer, added a hashtag to Garza’s phrase. Opal Tometi bought the domain name for “Black Lives Matter,” and it erupted into a movement. By 2014, #BlackLivesMatter peaked at 146,000 tweets. But following the murder of George Floyd, the hashtag nearly “broke” the internet, with 47.8 million tweets. Systemic racism is nothing new––it’s a calculated injustice that’s been around forever, far older than this country. But with COVID-19 forcing nearly every American to stay home, and the rise of social media, people are confronted with the ugly truth of racism like never before.

Not only does social media allow people to tell stories and share their experiences, but videos uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms provide a new kind of truth. In the weeks following the death of George Floyd, Instagram feeds took a whole new shape. Millions of users shared educational resources on white privilege and systemic racism. Artists created thoughtful pieces supporting Black Lives Matter. And links filled Instagram bios, urging followers to sign petitions, contact government officials, and make donations. Celebrities and influencers used their massive platforms to elevate Black and Brown voices. (Selena Gomez even handed her Instagram account over to various Black activists so that they could speak directly to her 183 million followers.)

Slacktivism is harmful because it reinforces white privilege. It begs the question, do most people only share solidarity when it’s convenient, beneficial for their image, or “trendy?”

But with all the good that social media brings to the world of activism, it doesn’t go without criticism. Performative activism, or “slacktivism,” means showing support for a cause with minimal effort, often as a socially visible gesture to boost your image. Take Black Out Tuesday, for example. Millions of Instagram users posted black squares to their feeds to show solidarity for the movement. While the flood of black squares on everyone’s timeline signaled a visual mark for support, some critics argue that the campaign was unproductive, performative, and drowned out the Black Lives Matter hashtag with blank images. Though the intention is there, slacktivism may be harmful because it reinforces white privilege. It begs the question, do most people only share solidarity when it’s convenient, beneficial for their image, or “trendy?” Black Lives Matter can’t be a trend or a PR move. It’s a continuous, arduous, and sometimes painful fight for what’s right.

So yes, it’s definitely important to publicly voice our support, but we need to do the work offline, too. We need to have hard conversations, to learn and unlearn, and self-reflect. Maybe that means donating our time or money, signing petitions, or calling our representatives and demanding justice. The important thing is that we fight for change in all aspects of our lives — beyond just a hashtag.

In the midst of a national uprising, we’ve seen brands making public statements on social media in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. But are these posts actually achieving anything? Many of these statements have been at best vague and redundant, and at worst a form of corporate slacktivism. Taking a public stance on an issue won’t mean much if it lacks measurable action. As a strategic marketing agency, we analyze why some statements work better than others. Here are some great ones that we can learn from.


On May 29th, Nike released an anti-racism campaign that put a spin on the brand’s classic just do it motto. The message urges viewers to for once, don’t do it — and took a clear stance on the issue of police brutality and racism in our country. The video is simple: a black background, a solemn piano melody, and words appearing and disappearing on the screen. The campaign got so much attention, even long-time rival, Adidas, retweeted the video.

Public statements like this, though, don’t come without controversy. All over social media, consumers are calling for brands to “open your purse.” It’s great that a company addresses these issues, but are they putting their money where their mouth is? Critics argue that a simple statement is not enough. They want action. They want donations. They want to see that they are actually doing something about the injustices.


Beauty brand Glossier not only pledged to donate the money — $500k across six anti-racist organizations — but also committed to set aside $500k in grants to support Black-owned businesses.


LEGO also took a powerful stance and pledged to donate $4 million to children-focused anti-racist organizations. But they didn’t stop there. The company also decided to pull all marketing for police-related toy sets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

These brand statements are both actionable and sincere. They not only share their stance on the issue but provide clear, tangible ways they will help.

Hella Creative

In June, Bay area collective, Hella Creative, launched an influential #HellaJuneteenth campaign. June 19th, 1865 marks the day the news of emancipation finally reached the last group of enslaved people in America. But it’s still not recognized as a national holiday. Hella Creative built an entire website dedicated to Juneteenth and the fight for racial justice. Packed with resources and letter templates, the initiative calls for companies to recognize and honor Juneteenth nationally. The campaign was shared through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and in just two weeks, over 655 companies publicly committed to observing Juneteenth as a paid holiday. Big names across industries include Netflix, Tumblr, and Fila. What started as a small company idea became a movement that had a huge impact on businesses and employees across the country. When social media is used to share information and challenge the status quo, real change can happen. The #HellaJuneteenth movement is exactly the kind of leadership and action that other brands can learn from.

More and more, these are the kinds of statements consumers want to see. Particularly with Millennials and Gen Z, consumers are holding brands to a higher standard. They want to buy from companies that are in line with their views, and they want to be confident that their favorite brands are a part of the solution — not the problem.

As company values and social values are blending, brands are becoming more human.

The power of social media is undeniable. Injustices are posted online for the world to see. Educational resources are flooding our timelines. And as company values and social values are blending, brands are becoming more human. At Proverb, we recognize that we need to use social media as a tool. A tool to better ourselves and our clients, to educate ourselves and take action. We are reflecting on the deep issues that plague our country, and how we can use this as an opportunity to fight for what’s right. We’ve compiled a helpful list of resources to learn, donate, and take action now.

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