The impact of performative social media movements on Latine voices
First-year Sofia Farres said she and her family were happy that others were finally attentive to Cuban people voicing their political, social, and economic struggles through #SOSCuba in July of 2021. Farres lost many family members during former president Fidel Castro’s regime, which many Cubans suffered under, she said.
The #SOSCuba movement to inform American audiences of the injustices in Cuba flooded Twitter and Instagram with images of the Cuban flag and disapproving messages regarding the island's repressive government. Former Cuban president Fidel Castro’s ideas of liberty did not align with what the citizens of the country needed, resulting in censorship and repression that continues to this day. Castro’s rule was defined as authoritarian, with increased surveillance, unjust incarcerations, and acts of repudiation.
“We wanted the truth to come out and were thrilled to finally see that happening [during #SOSCuba], but watching the government beat and arrest people [during in-person protests] was heartbreaking,” Farres said in an interview with The Intersectionalist.
After three days, #SOSCuba stopped trending, but the Cuban community continued to protest the injustices in person and online. America’s millennials and Generation Z “moved on” to the next foreign political conflict quickly, leaving Cubans to advocate for their liberties alone once again.
“I feel that social media activism, in regards to movements such as SOS Cuba, is slightly effective for a little bit, but people quickly stop caring,” Farres said. “These movements could be much more effective with proper media coverage. People are trying their hardest to use their voices to fight for change, but, unless those voices are amplified by the right people, nothing will happen.”
Within the trending #SOSCuba, many Cuban Americans posted donation links and means of contacting congressional representatives. However, many non-Cubans retweeted a graphic of the Cuban flag instead of a list of resources, causing the ultimate goals behind the movement to be lost to the algorithm.
Junior Sara Alvarez Echavarria, a Colombian native, emphasized the importance of doing more than just retweeting.
“Thank you for your repost, but what are you doing after this?” Echavarria said. “Do you even care about these people? How much are you digging into the problem?”
This phenomenon, reminiscent of an almost social bandwagon, reminded Alvarez Echavarria of a Spanish adage “Pa’ donde va la gente también va Vicente.”(rough translation: “Vincent goes wherever the people go”), which she said bears similarities to the occasionally performative nature of media activism. Vincent represents the generations that came of age during the explosion of social media, and la gente evokes the highest trending social movement or cause.
“If something is trending, everyone is posting something, and it feels nice,” Alvarez Echavarria said. “But, the U.S. has this mindset that they are heroes for reposting things.”
The instant gratification of amplifying something like #SOSCuba with minimum effort is difficult to replicate, thus encouraging the phenomenon known as slacktivism. Generally defined as support for social or political causes confined to social media action, slacktivism appeases our consciences.
“Millennials are engaging in short-term slacktivism behaviors that create a ‘feel good’ spirit among these individuals who believe they have taken an online action of value when it is in fact an action that is rarely followed by real, offline change,” University of Central Florida student Sasha Dookhoo wrote in a 2015 thesis paper.
Farres said Latine stereotypes in American media can also exacerbate this public indifference and weaken social media campaigns such as #SOSCuba. Latin American people and countries are discounted and misrepresented by the American media.
Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Rodriguez experienced firsthand how the limited American view of her country dominated public perception, specifically recalling the United States’ coverage of Hugo Chávez’s presidency.
“The American media portrays the issues at stake, but that objective manner doesn’t favor the Venezuelan people,” Rodriguez said in an interview with The Intersectionalist. “You can see that in the movement of SOS Cuba.”
Adding to the lack of acknowledgment of Latine voices, information originating from Latin American media companies is often misconstrued by national governments.
“When something happens in Colombia, people only listen to the big outlets,” Alvarez Echavarria said. “So they only put out what is convenient for the government there and convenient for the government here [in the U.S.].”
Instances of censorship further skew the reality of those living in Latin America. Although threatened by growing authoritarian governments, many Latines still report virtually and have created a “digital media ecosystem.” However, these smaller-scale efforts are often overshadowed by contorted press releases from the government.
“We are being talked over, invalidated, and ignored, and our people are dying faster than ever,” Farres said. “Everyone wonders why there’s such a massive immigration crisis in the U.S. without trying to learn why the people are trying to leave their countries. Because of the loss of the Latine perspective, people in the U.S. just view us as an inconvenience, as something a simple wall could fix rather than as human beings being exploited and oppressed.”
Even with the faults of social media and U.S. news outlets, Rodriguez and Farres both recognize the power social media extends to underrepresented groups when used appropriately.
“It's helpful in the sense that it's raising awareness,” Rodriguez said. “Some people have the misconception that to be an influencer, you have to have thousands and millions of followers and be verified when, in reality, we're all influencers.”
Farres, Rodriguez, and Alvarez Echavarria said true social change requires dedicated research on the topic, speaking with individuals from Latin American countries, and amplifying voices from these communities. They hope people in the U.S. learn to streamline their social media activism and defer to Latine individuals regarding future movements.
“The people that produce news and [media] are not the ones out there on the front lines,” Rodriguez said. “[Content] should be framed with primary sources that are actually living within this country. It's sometimes hard to reach out to people, but... you can always send a DM.”
(Illustration by Hailey Akau)