These posts quickly became counterproductive—many users included #BlackLivesMatter in their caption, flooding the hashtag with blacked-out posts. People who were using the hashtag to communicate about bail funds and other important protest information suddenly drowned in a sea of well-meaning non-Black people posting about not posting. This then prompted a wave of Black Lives Matter organizers and other users on both Twitter and Instagram asking to remove #BlackLivesMatter from the posts.
Here is St. Louis activist Kenidra Woods demonstrating the problem:
It has come to my attention that many allies are using #BlackLivesMatter hashtag w black image on insta. We know that’s it no intent to harm but to be frank, this essentially does harm the message. We use hashtag to keep ppl updated. PLS stop using the hashtag for black images!! pic.twitter.com/eG2fPaybNW
— Kenidra4Humanity ~ BLACK LIVES MATTER ~ (@KenidraRWoods_) June 2, 2020
The call to amplify Black voices and movements turned into non-Black people amplifying their own willing silence. At best, the black squares represent a virtue signaling attempt at showing solidarity with Black people. Posting a square along with a hashtag is a surefire way to associate your brand with the radical work Black people are doing on the ground. But, ultimately, the confusion around Blackout Tuesday is an example of how, despite our best intentions, Instagram is extremely manipulative and primed to exploit misunderstanding to everyone's detriment.
Originally, Blackout Tuesday was meant to target the music industry specifically, asking major players and labels to cease operations for one day to protest police brutality against Black people. Started by Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, two black women music executives, they intended to hold an industry that profits from Black art accountable for their (lack of) support of Black lives. Using #TheShowMustBePaused, the women listed a plan of action as well as bail funds and petitions for those looking to help out. But the movement quickly picked up momentum both inside and outside the industry, surpassing the organizers' original intentions and morphing into an endless black grid of posts on Instagram.
It's still unclear exactly how their specific campaign turned into users posting black squares on their accounts under #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackoutTuesday. Though, we'd do well to remember that Instagram is owned by the Grand Daddy of Misinformation and Viral Posts—Facebook. Russian troll accounts used the social media site to spread discord and disinformation in the lead up to the 2016 election, creating social justice Facebook groups such as "Black Matters U and "Don't Shoot Us" to increase tensions online. A part of me wonders if the momentum behind #BlackoutTuesday that ended up obscuring Black Lives Matter information channels was part of some sort of troll strategy, Russian or otherwise.
While Twitter still suffers problems with misinformation and Black bot accounts, it's much more apt for posting and resharing news and organizing content than Instagram. My advice for non-Black people looking to help would be to continue to amplify the voices of Black people and organizers during this time, opening your purse, and remembering social media sites like Instagram aren't working for you, but against you. Don't share the black square!