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2 Jul 2020 22:23
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  •   Home > News > International

    What the #BlackoutTuesday movement means and why it turned your Instagram dark

    Not everyone was pleased with the widespread #BlackoutTuesday movement on Instagram. This is how it unfolded and what it is trying to achieve.


    In the past week, your social media feed has likely been full of images of turmoil from cities across the United States.

    Protests against institutional racism and police conduct are continuing more than a week after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

    In the past day though, things might have started to look different.

    Specifically, you might have seen a lot of posts containing nothing but a plain black square.

    Here's what you need to know about the genesis of the #BlackoutTuesday movement, how it has unfolded and what it is trying to achieve.

    How did this start?

    It started in the music industry.

    "This is a call to action for those of us who work in music/entertainment/show business to pause on Tuesday, June 2nd because the show can't just go on as our people are being hunted and killed."

    That's former Atlantic Records employee Brianna Agyemang.

    She posted an image that was then widely shared with the hashtag #theshowmustbepaused.

    Ms Agyemang and her former college at Atlantic, Jamila Thomas, started #theshowmustbepaused campaign.

    On the official website, they asked the industry to take a day to pause and reflect on the way it continues to disenfranchise its black employees "from the boardroom to the boulevard" while profiting off black artists.

    "I don't want to sit on your Zoom calls talking about the black artists who are making you so much money, if you fail to address what's happening to black people right now," Ms Thomas was reported as saying.

    The big record labels Sony, Universal and Warner took notice.

    They pledged to stop work on Tuesday and offered support in various ways. Music industry workers in Australia did the same.

    Some labels said they would make donations to organisations helping to bail protesters out of jail, while others urged music fans to sign petitions voicing their anger at police brutality.

    What happened from there?

    Once Tuesday rolled around, major artists started sharing posts using #theshowmustbepaused.

    But as well as stopping promotion of their work, others artists, like Rihanna, shared blank black squares.

    This spread to other musicians, and to celebrities unconnected to the music business, like actress Katie Holmes.

    From here, the original, figurative idea of the blackout — to "disrupt the work week" and "take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the black community", in the words of organisers — morphed into a literal social media blackout.

    Once popular people with lots of influence began blacking out Instagram, their legions of followers did the same.

    By late Tuesday in Australia, Instagram feeds started looking like endless scrolls of black squares.

    What do the black squares mean?

    This is a point of contention.

    Once the black squares began dominating Instagram, some prominent music industry figures, including Lil Nas X, were concerned the sheer number of blank images was not helping.

    He expressed concern it was drowning out deeper messages and diluting the #blacklivesmatter hashtag, which has become a place to share advice and resources, and to organise.

    Pretty soon, users were being asked to delete that hashtag from their posts.

    While many ordinary users felt the posts were a way to express their solidarity, others saw a wall of silence, as opposed to amplifying voices or directing people to donate or sign petitions, as the wrong approach.

    It's worth noting that nowhere in the official statements from the organisers or on their website do they mention the sharing of plain black images.

    Under a heading "what can you do on Tuesday, June 2, 2020", the pair suggest several things, including donating to bail funds or to the families of black people killed by police, among them Mr Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who was shot by officers in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.

    The organisers also said their campaign was not "just a 24-hour initiative".

    "We are and will be in this fight for the long haul."

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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