Are Instagraphics our new age education, or just instant activist gratification?

I was always under the impression that slideshow presentations aren’t something that are actually liked, they’re just something we’ve all accepted as a necessary evil. Something we all agree to create or consume in order to understand a topic. But a bunch of woke millennials with moderate design skills seem determined to change my mind.

Like a revolution, but more #aesthetic

Last year saw the rise of the ‘Instagraphic’ – Instagram multiple image posts featuring (mostly) text in eye-catching fonts over muted colours in a slideshow story format. These posts are bite-sized presentations on a topic, usually a current socio-political concern like the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement or what it takes to impeach a president.

There was a huge increase in the sharing of Instagraphics around the time of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Our Stories feed was filled with links to posts about police violence, understanding racism, understanding white privilege – even the progress of court cases surrounding the killings of African Americans and the police involved. Half the Instagram community seemed determined to educate both themselves and their followers on modern-day racism. It felt like a positive moment for a community normally focused on selfies, holiday snaps, and memes. Real-world action was happening because people were spreading information about organisations and individuals who needed the public’s support.

Instagraphics are quick to read, easy to understand, and visually eye-catching. They can make a complicated topic instantly digestible. But maybe this is a double-edged sword.  In order to fight through the holiday photos and selfies, the creators of these info-bites are having to play by the rules of the algorithm. This often means that the content of the mini-presentation and the design in which it is presented to you have little-to-nothing in common. This can easily lead to the information of the presentation blending into the noise, leaving your memory as soon as your feed refreshes. And when something becomes that shareable, is anyone stopping to read it and check that it’s based on fact?

Promoting causes, misinformation, or a sales tactic?

According to Venngage, infographics have been proven to be three times more effective than just an image or text. That’s because infographics combine data and design into an easy to understand visual that is both attractive and useful. Instagraphics tend to be targeted at people – often women in their 20s and 30s – who want to be having conversations on challenging topics, who want to be an ally to those facing injustice but don’t feel well-informed enough. By presenting challenging information through a familiar and appealing design, suddenly learning about systemic racism doesn’t feel so challenging.

These design tactics aren’t anything new, however. Brands have been using them to target millennials for some time now. Just take a look at the Instagram accounts of Glossier, CHNGE, and Oatly. But with the number of free tools and templates now available, absolutely anyone regardless of their knowledge on a topic or intent in writing about it can create a graphic and share it on Instagram.

Enter the argument surrounding #BlackoutTuesday, which happened at the peak of people sharing Instagraphics on the subject of the BLM movement and the protests happening in the USA.  On #BlackoutTuesday people united in sending a message by saying nothing. The design choice to black out people’s feed by collectively sharing a black square was powerful. Yet before the day had even ended, the event was criticized for the lack of information it gave on the movement. People were criticized for performative allyship and only sharing a black square instead of truly educating themselves. Here’s the crux of my issue with Instagraphics, and easily shareable politically motivated Instagram content in general: what are we actually taking away from all of this?

In search of a new age education

I’m still wondering if we learned our lesson from the #BlackoutTuesday debate. If something is so quick and easy to read and share, are we really educating ourselves and others? I would love to see a study on the consumption of Instagraphics and how many people could hold a conversation based on the content of these mini-presentations after reading them.

More worryingly, I would love to know how many people trusted the information they read just because an account they follow shared it first and it ‘looked legit’, without giving any thought to where the information had come from. Your average woke millennial would never be so blasé about where they get their news articles, right? So why are we so careless as to what knowledge we gain from Facebook-owned Instagram?

Don’t just be ‘woke’, be fact-checked

By encapsulating the point you want to make in colour and design, you can very quickly give something positive or negative connotations. The topics that people are creating Instagraphics for are usually important ones that are often not included as part of our basic education. For the most part, I think the Instagraphic won me over. For the most part.

Instagraphics have endured over the last year because they really can be useful. They help to spread awareness about important topics and issues, and they feel like the good side of Instagram’s huge and diverse community. At the end of the day, there are much less helpful things to be sharing. But as someone who really was inspired to seek out further reading off of the back of last summer’s protests, these are my recommendations for the Instagraphic lovers out there.

  • Read the full caption. Read every part of the post before you consider sharing it.
  • Has the account that created the presentation spoken to an expert on the topic? Are they pointing you to their references or further reading in the post or somewhere within their account?
  • Is the person who created the presentation themselves an expert on the topic?
  • Don’t share something just because your friend shared it and it has a catchy title. Please. This doesn’t educate you or anyone else around you.

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