It’s cute. I’ll share it – I never imagined someone would say it in the context of Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Yet, here we are in an age where injustices have taken not only the form of content but where social media aestheticize them. Yes, I’m talking about social justice infographics – so-called Instagraphics.
What’s happening in Lebanon? Should we say “Black”? What is environmental racism? If you’ve been on Instagram in the last year, you’ve probably seen at least a few social justice infographics similar to these. These 10-image carousel formats have become popular with activists and non-activists alike. They are using them to share protest notifications, educational resources, and information on just about any social justice-related topic. But we forget that it is a form of content. The content we are consuming, resulting in engagement in the form of likes, comments, shares, and finally, selling and exploiting data. While the design is performing what it is supposed to do: draw attention and communicate effectively.
When the form doesn’t follow function…
Instagraphics are intertwined with mirror selfies and pictures of puppies in endless scroll through Instagram feed and stories. At first glance, it is impossible to separate them from advertisements. How does this affect the way we perceive these injustices? Are they essential, or do they blend in with the basic millennial skincare ad, as Eric Hu and Terry Nguyen stated in a Vox article: “[Eric Hu states] ‘A lot of this stuff, you can swap the text out for anything, and it’ll completely change the message,’ Hu added. ‘There isn’t much of a relationship between content and aesthetics; if anything, the content is just interchangeable like an ad, for better or for worse.’ He later direct-messaged me a slew of corporate made-for-Instagram advertisements, and sure enough, the parallels are shocking and potentially problematic when considering how integral design is in “selling” consumers a product, a vision, or even an ideology.”
The politicization of Instagram, or is it another way around?
Instagram subjects Instagrphics to its nature. Instagraphics glorify and aestheticize serious topics like social injustices and human rights. You are consuming important information like it is content. You can see how complex ideas and thinkings are softening so that they become more probable. Constant exposure to such content could push this concept in the direction of slacktivism. But, instead of acting on it, we are vain liking and sharing.
There is nothing wrong with a good design that accompanies a strong message. We see it and do it every day. But often, Instagraphics diminish the importance of the message or combine them with pastel backgrounds, elegant sans-serif fonts, and random photos they are making them a rhythmless dancer. On one side, some Instagraphics cram vast blocks of text into small squares, making them unreadable. On the other hand, we have Instagraphics that throw out all the context, leaving only the most provocative statements, making them more tempting for better engagement. Just because most people have the best intentions doesn’t mean equating such complex problems to the same level with filtered selfies is a good idea.
Come to think of it…
This bizarre blend of content and aesthetics aren’t unexpected at all within Instagram. We are carefully coordinating and creating a particular aesthetic atmosphere inside these little squares. We are the generation that is used to filtered photos and the aestheticization of an oil spill.