Identity in Communities and Networks

Wokeness: Performing an identity on Twitter


Online activism is an important part of modern-day activism. However, many people in activist circles on Twitter perform wokeness to gain social currency. By looking at the Black Lives Matter and fourth-wave feminist movements, as well as the 2018 plastic straw debates, I look at how Twitter users fall into the trap of focusing on the performative aspects of activism to gain social currency or relevance.


Online activism is an important part of modern-day activism. However, many people in activist circles on Twitter perform wokeness to gain social currency. By looking at the Black Lives Matter and fourth-wave feminist movements, as well as the 2018 plastic straw debates, I look at how Twitter users fall into the trap of focusing on the performative aspects of activism to gain social currency or relevance.


Many people seem to assume that online activism does not matter. People think that it is lazy, and that it does nothing for enacting change in any tangible way (Simpson, 2018). Online activists are seen as people that are too lazy to get off their devices to instead participate in the types of activism that do matter—like protests, or marches, or writing letters to politicians; the types of activism that raise awareness or change laws and policies. But, online activism is an important component of modern day activism (Simpson, 2018; Zimmerman, 2017). In fact, online activism on Twitter has launched or progressed movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, both of which have encouraged real-world discussions and protests (Simpson, 2018). Because of the accessibility of Twitter many people participate in online activism with actions as simple as retweeting things on Twitter or sharing their opinions with a quick post. People have even gained large followings because of their online activism, such as Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, who uses the movement as a part of his online identity and has had many opportunities because of his following, such as speaking at a Twitter event (Vis et al, 2019). Although online activists have good intentions, many people speak over the groups they purport to care about in order to gain social currency.


As mentioned above, many people view online activists as simply too lazy to do any form of activism that actually creates change—how could tweets on Twitter change things? Contrary to what people might believe, online activists understand that older, physical forms of activism, such as protests and marches, are important and participate in them (Simpson, 2018; Vonk, 2019; Zimmerman, 2017). Think of the Women’s March in 2017, or Black Lives Matter protests. Online activism is important because it has a low barrier of entry and is relatively safe (Simpson, 2018). If a person has a Twitter account, they can join in. With a tweet, or even a retweet, they can share their stories, their opinions, or show support for others. They can be a part of a movement even if they live in a rural area hours away from protests or marches, or have reasons they cannot attend such as disability, safety concerns, or responsibilities like children. With Twitter, anybody can make noise; they do not need a march or protest. Movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo began on Twitter. Similarly, things like plastic straws gained such large attention because of Twitter that laws around them have changed (Wong, 2019). These things show online activism, despite popular belief, can actually make a substantial change or raise a lot of awareness for an issue.

Twitter as an organisational tool

Twitter is an important organisational tool for modern activism. According to Simpson (2018), due to the size and accessibility of Twitter and its features like tagging and retweets, it is a useful place for movements to have important “internal” discussions about their issues, as possible as that is with the large size of some movements. People in activist movements use Twitter to talk about how their movement is advancing or evolving, to attempt to make sure as many people within the movement are aware of any new or changed goals, and to try make sure the movement stays unified. This translates into movements being better prepared and more cohesive (Zimmerman, 2017), which is especially helpful in physical spaces such as marches or protests. Primarily, movements keep these conversations organised through the use of Twitter tags (Simpson, 2018), which are not just a way of organising information or categorising tweets. They also allow people to easily join in on a conversation. For example, tweeting or retweeting only a hashtag can communicate to others that they are a part of the group of people affected by the issue, or support others affected by the issue (Simpson, 2018). It allows them to feel as if they are a part of the discussion, to create noise, without feeling like they have to divulge information they are not comfortable sharing or, if showing solidarity, show support without risk of speaking over others. Twitter not only makes activism more accessible, but presents ways of keeping these larger movements organised.

The importance of “woke”ness

Look at the Twitter accounts of young people who identify as politically left-leaning or people who are invested in social justice and you will probably come across the term “woke”. Originating from African-American Vernacular English, “woke” can be understood as a term applied to people who are aware of social justice issues (Vis et al, 2019; Vonk, 2019), particularly to issues regarding race, although this facet is often forgotten (Vonk, 2019). With the widespread accessibility of Twitter, people of colour, people with disabilities, and LGBT+ people are all able to share their opinions and experiences to a potential audience of thousands. In the past, these groups had no way to make their voices heard, or the ways that were accessible to them were easy for people who disagreed to ignore or use against them (Vonk, 2019; Zimmerman, 2017). With the rise of platforms such as Twitter making it easier for anybody to share their experiences and opinions, even things like feminism have changed. Zimmerman (2017) states that previous forms of feminism were largely composed of middle-class white women, and women of colour were either not part of the movement or expected to choose their identity as a woman over their race. However, a major component of fourth-wave feminism that sets it apart from previous waves is intersectionality, which takes into account how a woman’s other identities such as race, ability, sexuality, class, and whether a woman is trans would affect her experiences (Zimmerman, 2017). Because of this concept of intersectionality, fourth-wave feminism works in tandem with this modern concept of wokeness—this importance of being aware of all social justice issues, not just the issues that affect middle-class white women. This shows how important the concept of wokeness is to many people in online social justice communities.


Using social media is inherently performative. People are aware of their possible audience—the entire world—so they are aware of their heightened ability to broadcast to others who they are (Pearson, 2009). This means that people take pains and make conscious decisions to signal different things about themselves depending on what they want others to know about them and how they want others to see them (boyd, 2007; Pearson, 2009). These signals could be all sorts of things, ranging from the obvious such as how they customise their Twitter profile pages—header image, profile picture, the information they supply like birthday or location and their bio—to the less obvious such as who they follow, because on Twitter the accounts a user follows is publicly viewable. Do they want it to be public knowledge that they like a certain celebrity, or author, or follow a politician that is affiliated with a certain political party or certain beliefs? What does all this information mean about them? Is that how they want others to view them? This careful curation of signals that a user broadcasts to others also includes the things they tweet and retweet. A Twitter user is always aware of their possible audience and their community, or the communities they are adjacent to. People cannot help but be aware of their followers, their mutuals (the people they follow that also follow them back) and their mutuals’ mutuals (Gruzd, 2011). Community and identity are inherently connected; people see what communities they are a part of, or wish to be a part of, as a part of their identity (boyd, 2007).

Performing wokeness for social currency

As previously mentioned, the concept of wokeness is important to people in social justice circles online. A good way to illustrate exactly how important it is would be to look at popular Twitter activists like DeRay McKesson who use their activism as a part of their self-branding. According to Vis et al (2019), McKesson’s beliefs are not as radical as those of many others in the Black Lives Matter movement, who are usually anti-capitalist and against law enforcement in its current form. Instead, McKesson protests violent police officers, not the system as a whole. Most of the other popular figures in the Black Lives Matter movement share similar views as McKesson, and use their activism to build upon their identity/self-brand (Vis et al, 2019). This suggests that their more mainstream views are a large part of their popularity, possibly that their beliefs are less likely to rock the boat. The large following of such activists—McKessen was on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2016 and, as of April 2020, boasts over one million Twitter followers—also shows that being perceived as woke can be used to gain social currency online (Vonk, 2019).

How performing wokeness harms minority and oppressed groups

As mentioned earlier, Twitter users are always aware of their communities (Gruzd, 2011) and that people see the communities they are a part of, or wish to be a part of, as a part of their own identities (boyd, 2007). Add to this that the concept of wokeness can be used to gain social currency in online social justice circles (Vonk, 2019), and it is not a far stretch to believe people in online social justice circles often take part in online discussion or activism in a way that is not truly helpful. People might claim to care about an issue or a minority group but not actually know anything about the issue past surface-level knowledge. Or, they might claim to care for a minority group but not understand the issues unique to that minority group.

If we look back to intersectional feminism, we can see examples of this. Many black women have voiced feelings of anger and frustration that, even in a time of intersectional feminism, problems particular to white women still take centre stage or that white feminists will often forgive other feminists for instances of racism (Zimmerman, 2017). It is also a popular, well-known narrative among feminist groups that a white woman, when instances of her racism or ignorance are pointed out, no matter how nicely, will publicly breakdown about being bullied online—shifting the narrative to focus on the white woman’s mental health and victimhood, derailing the initial conversation (Vonk, 2019; Zimmerman, 2017). In these instances, white women signal their victimhood in the situation to stop receiving comments and feedback about what is oftentimes innocent ignorance and making themselves the centre of the conversation, when they could just as easily take the opportunity to open up and continue a conversation about an issue faced by a minority group.

According to Wong (2019), another example of performative activism on Twitter would be the 2018 plastic straw conversation that gained momentum on Twitter before becoming a topic people all over the world were talking about in real life and even had real-world legal ramifications, resulting in some cities in the U.S. banning single-use plastic straws. As the conversation was gaining momentum many people with disabilities shared on Twitter that they required plastic straws and were subsequently ignored, or their problems minimised. Many of them said that they could not drink without a straw, and cited reasons that various reusable straws would not be suitable as a substitute. The city of San Francisco, in a bid to show the city cared about disabled people, made an exception to the plastic straw ban that stipulated disabled people could ask for a straw, putting the decision of who was disabled enough for a straw in the hands of waitstaff or cashiers. This decision was made without proper input from people with disabilities (Wong, 2019). There are various performative aspects surrounding the plastic straw conversation. Firstly, that people with disabilities were not listened to, despite the disabled community being a group that most people would claim to care about. People with disabilities reported feeling like they had to prove they were disabled enough for a straw (Wong, 2019). The second, that while climate change is an important issue, single use plastic straws are only a small part of the problem and such a small impact is not worth people with disabilities feeling as if they have to prove their disability to others.

These examples show that people in social justice and online activism circles are willing to put opportunities to perform wokeness and gain social currency over properly doing any real good.


Twitter users in online activism to build and manage their online identity. Sometimes, users might fall into the trap of focusing on the performative aspects of activism to gain social currency or relevance. This is, however, most likely not malicious or even purposefully misleading. Simply that they see themselves as good and probably well-informed members of social justice circles, so of course they care about these things. It is more likely that they have not put in the effort to actually learn about the issues and minority groups that they purport to care about. This seems common among people with less facets of their identity that fall into minority or oppressed groups, and means that they should take greater efforts to listen to others.


Gruzd, A., Wellman, B., Takhteyev, Y. (2011). Imagining Twitter as an imagined community. American Behavioral Scientist, 55(10), 1294-1318.

Pearson, E. (2009). All the World Wide Web’s a stage: The performance of identity in online social networks. First Monday, 14(3).

Simpson, E. (2018). Integrated & alone: The use of hashtags in Twitter social activism. CSCW 18: Companion of the 2018 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing. 237–240.

Vats, A. (2015) Cooking up hashtag activism: #PaulasBestDishes and counternarratives of southern food. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 12(2), 209-213.

Vis, F., Faulkner, S., Noble, S. U., & Guy, H. (2019).12 When Twitter got #woke: Black Lives Matter, DeRay McKesson, Twitter, and the appropriation of the aesthetics of protest. In A. McGarry, I. Erhart, H. Eslen-Ziya, O, Jenzen & U Korkut (Eds.), The Aesthetics of Global Protest (pp. 247-266). Amsterdam University Press.

Vonk, L. A. (2019). The woke white queen: Constance Hall and mummy blogging as a case study in antiracialism. Journal of Asia-Pacific Pop Culture 4(2),129-148.

Wong, A. (2019). The rise and fall of the plastic straw: Sucking in crip defiance. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, 5(1), 1-12.

Zimmerman, T. (2017). #Intersectionality: The fourth wave feminist twitter community. Atlantis, 38(1).

28 replies on “Wokeness: Performing an identity on Twitter”

Hello Chloe!
I liked the way you presented alternative views and then used evidence to back up why you believed they’re wrong. I personally enjoyed the amount of case studies you had as evidence. Great examples!
I enjoyed how you mentioned “ Online activism is important because it has a low barrier of entry and is relatively safe” as I agree! I think online activism is an easy way to share your views and form a community of similar views. It definitely is a great method to organise protests and action!
It would have been nice to see a little bit more about how Twitter differs from other social media in terms of online activism but the paper was still done well!
Would you say that the way people perform on Twitter with online activism would be the same with their performance on other social media?

Hi AnneMarie,
Thanks! I think a lot of people underestimate how useful the internet and social media are for social justice and activism.

I focussed on Twitter because it’s the platform I hear the most about people using to take part in social justice and activism and I knew there would be enough academic research for me to find the information. My research skills aren’t too great.

One of the journal articles I read focussed more on Facebook and mentioned that there was a kind of performative aspect in the following of a large mummy blogger. Apart from that article I didn’t read anything that discussed any social media platform apart from Twitter. However, in my own internet use I’ve definitely come across the sort of performative wokeness I’ve talked about in my paper — I don’t use many social media platforms, but I’ve seen it on Tumblr and YouTube, so I imagine it could happen on any platform with a high number of people that care about social justice and activism.


Hello again Chloe!
Yes, it’s definitely a great tool for reaching those who would not have come into contact otherwise. We’ve really incorporated it so much into our lives that we are helpless without it.
Thanks for clarifying why you chose Twitter specifically – I agree with you about it being a dominant platform for social activism.
What I meant was do you think people are as vocal about their beliefs on Facebook/Instagram as they are on Twitter? Do you think they alter their behaviour slightly on other social media sites?
I agree with your research about the performative mummy blogger aspect, they definitely promote a certain idealised persona on social media.

Hi Anne-Marie,
I don’t use social media very much, (especially not Facebook or Instagram) and especially not enough to see how people differ in their uses on different platforms. However, when doing essays for previous units, I’ve come across research that says that people do tend to alter their behaviour when using different social media platforms. Because each platform has different features and limitations, people are forced to use each platform in different ways. Also, each platform tends to attract slightly different types of people because of their uses. These things seem to mean that each platform has its own sort of “culture”, almost. For example, Instagram is very much about things being polished and “aesthetic”, often with more thought and planning put into the pictures posted than pictures people would post to other platforms. I’m not sure if this dfference in “platform culture”, if you will, translates to people being more or less vocal about beliefs on different platforms, however.

Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful answering your questions!

Hi Chloe,

I was interested in reading your paper as I wanted to see how others explored Twitter through their research. I really appreciated how balanced your argument and research has been.

Interestingly, I was able to tie aspects of my paper into your work. Performing wokeness could easily translate across to how ISIL misconstrued their own narrative to give the perception that their goal was to establish a harmonious land for religious minorities when in reality they had much more sinister ideas. A good contrasting perspective of how influential and sometimes misleading and damaging ‘wokeness’ can be Twitter.

When researching for my own piece, I came across statistics that showed that the anonymity of identity across Twitter results in communities that interact and support for more sensitive topics (Islamophobia, LGBTQIA+, Drugs) (Peddinti, Ross, & Capos, 2017, p. 85). With this understanding paired with your explanation of the rise in social activism on platforms such as Twitter, it makes me wonder if Twitter has also potentially contributed to a rise in activism for more sinister groups (white supremacists, hate groups, etc.)?

My work:

Hi Lachlan,

My research was focussed on activism and social justice circles on Twitter, so I didn’t come across anything about groups such as white supremacists, hate groups, incels etc., but just from my time using the internet it seems that Twitter has also contributed to the rise in numbers in these groups. Partly because the site gives these groups all the same benefits that positive online activists get, but also partly because of “wokeness”. For example, a popeular narrative Ive heard is that people try to speak up and take part of more positive movements but don’t know the correct terms, so they get pushed away/people on Twitter over-react and these people feel removed from socially progressive/online activist spaces. Because they’ve now had negative interactions with people who call themselves “progressive” or “open-minded”, these people are easy targets for more sinister groups like white supremacists, hate groups, etc. to prey on. It’s interesting that some of the things that are propelling social justice and online activism are also things that are causing a rise on the things we, as a society, are fighting against.


“…people try to speak up and take part of more positive movements but don’t know the correct terms, so they get pushed away/people on Twitter over-react and these people feel removed from socially progressive/online activist spaces…” This an interesting comment and something I also have started to notice also!
Do you think perhaps an increased level of ‘wokeness’ is what is also resulting in the ever-increasing popularity of cancel culture? YouTubers are often becoming cancelled for saying insensitive or inappropriate things but they usually had no original malice intent, but people are becoming more aware of any little slip-ups.

Hello Lachlan,
Yeah, I think the increased level of wokeness has propelled cancel-culture, which usually doesn’t seem to affect most public figures who are “cancelled”, anyway. I’ve noticed most YouTubers gain back their following in a couple months, “cancelled” actors still book roles, that sort of stuff. The people who are affected by being cancelled seem to be ordinary people with no public platform, who because of an (usually) ignorant joke or comment went viral get fired or have their personal lives affected in other ways. So, even the “cancelling” of most public figures I’d argue is performative.

This is true! It makes me wonder if this cancel culture is more just an act for the audience to show their ‘wokeness’, cultural understanding, and empathy, rather than them being genuinely upset with the figure they’re cancelling? Hence why we see these figures recover from their cancelled-ness sometimes in a matter of weeks!

Hi Lachlan,
I think a lot of the time when public figures are cancelled it seems to be an act. If I’m intrigued about why someone’s getting cancelled it’s often difficult to find nuanced conversation about the reason, the issue, or even reminders/pushes to support people affected. Sometimes I can’t even find out WHY they’re being cancelled! And there doesn’t seem to be any efforts to use the cancelling as an opportunity to educate people who choose still support the person being cancelled about why what that person did was wrong. There are, of course, people who do stop supporting someone who’s been cancelled. Overall I roll my eyes when public figures complain about being cancelled and cancel-culture — things are likely to be back to normal for them within a few months, if not weeks. Some YouTubers get cancelled a couple times a year and re-gain their lost followers and then some, all while still displaying almost the exact same attitudes and behaviours as what gets them cancelled every few months.

Hi Chloe, I loved reading your paper. I was particularly captivated by your opening argument on whether online activism matters, that’s a rich topic one could probably devote an entire paper to! It seems to me, particularly in geek cultures such as online gaming, people get angry and hurl insults and companies on twitter, then complain when their insults are not addressed. Though I realise getting angry on the internet is not the same as online activism, it is something which has made me question the value of online activism and where the line is draw between complaining and activism. Certainly, online activism relates to offline activism, it’s a place where demonstrations can be formulated and organised. Though in the current political climate where it seems every politician has already made up their minds I often wonder about the effectiveness of online activism too. Though successful movements like #MeToo show us activism can still be effective, online and off. I think, as you say, we need to educate ourselves on the matters we rally for, but also we need to somehow take efforts to educate others too.

Hi James,
I’ve definitely seen criticisms of various companies for not paying attention to their consumer base/customers. I think Electronic Arts is pretty notorious for it?

I think being angry about something is a great first step in online activism, which doesn’t necessarily have to be about big things like feminism and racism and stuff. To talk about gaming for example, I’ve noticed game prices have gone up a fair bit in the last couple years. While I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that games are so much more complex and take a lot more effort and time than they used to, I’d imagine this would mean the individuals making the games — the artists, the coders, etc. — would be earning more than they used to. But I’ve heard that isn’t the case and its more the higher-ups who are kind of just pocketing a lot of the extra. I’ve seen snatches of discussion and trying to raise awareness about how underpaid and overworked the people making games are make their way into my various feeds on different social media sites a couple times. I also know some big online gaming personalities like Markiplier host livestreams occasionally to fundraise for various charities. So I’d say there’s definitely some attempt at online activism going on in the online gaming community. I think largely gamers probably aren’t listened to because they aren’t usually taken seriously due to the way society tends to view them.

In a similar vein, in the online makeup community I’ve noticed a lot of people talking about how there needs to be more range in the shades available for things like foundation, and consequently most makeup brands have widened their shade-range. And whenever I hear about some kind of controversy in the makeup world, companies tend to address the issue pretty quickly. I wonder if this difference is in how gamers vs people in the makeup community approach issues, or in how the companies view their consumers? I’d imagine it’s a bit of both.

I agree that I wonder how effective online activism is when it comes to politicians and actually the changing laws. I think it’s power lies more in raising awareness about issues, and then its up to offline things like elections and writing letters and protests to actually make sure a change happens.

I didn’t get into it in my paper, but I think the idea of being woke can actually be harmful to a lot of online activism and social justice stuff — people can get so caught up in the correct terms that they’ll turn away people who genuinely want to help and learn because they’re using the wrong words. Taking the time to educate people, even just pointing them towards good resources or telling them what words to search to learn about something, is super important and doesn’t usually take a whole lot of effort. But a lot of people online seem more interested in derailing conversations or finding “gotcha”s than actually learning.

But I think it in part does

Hi Chloe,

You have chosen an important topic for your paper, a topic that is probably not explored enough, I think. Well done for tackling it!

You have clearly laid bare the shenanigans how some Twitter identities may ride on the back of protest ideas and campaigns for selfish reasons. Their awareness of the issues and belief in them causes is pretty limited but their apparent participation is focused on gaining cheap publicity and, as you say, “social currency”.

I agree with your assertion that online activism matters but I think the challenge for all the difficult campaigns, such as the ones you mention, is to keep the issues at stake out of the “too hard basket” in the real world. Only if there were a lot more courageous politicians who were not afraid to do the right thing by everyone!

In your conclusion you say that these identity performances may not be malicious but the lack of deeper understanding of the real issues at play. I would propose the idea that some people may find themselves under pressure to appear to be on the right side of history and yet their heart was not in it at all. Did you find any issues with pseudonymity affecting the authenticity of messaging in activism on Twitter at all?

Good read.



Hi Bayayi,
The way many people online are so invested in being seen as woke is something that bothers me a lot, especially when a lot of people only seem to have a shallow knowledge of things or only talk about them when they’re big topics and support dwindles down quickly, rather than actually learn about things and care about them.

I think its incredibly important for online activism to only be one facet of modern activism, and it can be incredibly disheartening to see that a lot of politicians don’t seem to care too much about a lot of issues. That’s why its important to be an informed voter, to actually vote and stuff (even in Australia where it’s mandatory to vote, I know a fair amount of people who don’t vote and think the fine is worth it), and hopefully things will change and politicians will realise they have to care about things other than money.

I agree with you that there would be people who don’t truly care about issues but take part in online activism just to be on the right side of things. I’d argue that isn’t a bad thing as long they do their best not to spread misinformation or take part in a way that would actually harm the groups they’re pretending to care about. Maybe in time they might start to genuinely care? But even if not, I think it’s important for the numbers of people who support different groups and their issues to be higher. Sort of like when a celebrity publicly donates to a charity just for the good publicity it brings them and not because they care about the cause the charity is for — that charity still received money that can be used to help people.

I can’t say that anonymity really came up in my research besides saying that many people feel more comfortable taking part in online activism and sharing their stories because of it? But I didn’t see anything about authenticity. There are a couple papers other students have posted that look like they talk about online activism, maybe one of them has explored it?

Hello Chloe
James Smith commented on my paper and pointed out the contrasts between our papers and suggested I check out your paper too. Really interesting read and there are many aspects of your paper I agree with but id like to offer a perspective from what I’ve researched about Indigenous online activism in Australia.
I agree that online activism is important, and it does and can work, but for Indigenous people in Australia, there are unique constraints involved. I wonder if Black Lives Matter was more successful than #sosblakaustralia (which, including myself, many people have never even heard of) because of the sheer number of people involved. Aboriginal people make up about 3% of the (25 million) Australian population ( , however in the USA, Afro-American populations number around 15% of a population of 350,000,000.
In the context of online activism, is there any correlation between population and effectiveness of these campaigns, considering the global nature of the internet?
I also agree, like Twitter, that SM platforms can be powerful tools in launching campaigns which can have a global impact, however, in Australia, where power structures in politics and mainstream media mute Indigenous voice, in various ways (I explain these points in my paper) I’ve also come to a conclusion (and Im still building my research on this) that there is structural racism that acts as a constraint, which progresses further my original argument but something I’ve theorised during this conference and the many perspectives offered in the comments on my paper.
The penny really dropped when I read your statements about how ‘performing wokeness harms minority and oppressed groups’. Awesome. I agree with your points and feel id missed this element altogether and its beginning to fill a few gaps in my research. Performing wokeness. Brilliant.
Its so interesting that the whole straw campaign there was no consultation with the groups that were actually impacted by this and this reminds me of the ‘Recognise’ campaign which was similar in that Indigenous communities across Australia felt this campaign was a distraction from the real issues Indigenous people cared about, including land rights.
Your conclusion really smashed it. I think you’re so right when you say ‘It is more likely that they have not put in the effort to actually learn about the issues and minority groups that they purport to care about. This seems common among people with less facets of their identity that fall into minority or oppressed groups, and means that they should take greater efforts to listen to others.’
I had sort of considered this but it was no more than a passing thought through my focus on other constraints id written about in my paper. You’ve condensed this down for me perfectly! Another light bulb moment for me after reading this. It’s another perspective for me to consider in the context of my own paper. I’m really glad I read your paper, its one of the best I’ve read in this conference; compelling, well written and researched. Ill have to thank James too, he gave me the heads up (:
Btw, my paper is ‘The Voice Unheard’ in the Indigenous People, Virtual Communities and Online Social Networks stream along with 2 other brilliant papers by Talep and Emele you might be interested in reading.

Hi Bruno,
I agree with you that the success of the Black Lives Matter movement in comparison to movements in Australia regarding Indigenous Australian issues probably has something to do with the number of people involved.

I didn’t come across anything regarding how population numbers affect online activism and its effectiveness for campaigns, but I didn’t really look for it. I wasn’t really focussing on HOW effective online activism is, I wanted to focus more on showing that because online activism works to even a slight degree, people use it to gain social currency and perform wokeness in a way that harms minority and oppressed groups.

I definitely think you have a point about structural racism muting Indigenous Australian voices. For the most part, it seems Indigenous Australians are relegated to their own media outlets; we don’t see Indigenous Australian news on the major TV network news, I don’t tend to see many news articles online about Indigenous Australians, and it seems most shows from/about Indigenous Australians air either only on the NITV or at weird times on the ABC when most people wouldn’t be watching. Also, as you’ve mentioned, Indigenous Australians aren’t usually consulted (and if they are consulted, aren’t listened to) regarding how to fix Indigenous Australian issues.

I think this lack of widespread Indigenous Australian media might also play into why the Black Lives Matter movement has seen more success than movements regarding Indigenous Australian issues. Various Black American celebrities/public figures have talked about/promoted the Black Lives Matter movement and Black American issues over the last few years, helping the movement gain traction. Whereas I can’t think of too many really popular, household-name Indigenous Australians? Maybe that’s my own fault, as I’m not too keyed into Australian pop culture. The huge lack of popular Indigenous Australians I’d say would come from Australia’s (as a society) huge racism problem.

I’m glad you found my paper helpful. I’m off to go read yours now!

Chloe, this has been one of the most interesting pieces I’ve read throughout this conference. Digital activism and clicktivism, in many instances, truly appears to be a form of virtue signaling.

There are, of course, some notable examples that could be interesting case studies to further explore your thesis, including Gina Martin; a digital activist in the United Kingdom who successfully campaigned on Instagram to make up skirting illegal.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States is a great case study for this paper, but I’d also be interested to explored similar movements in Australia and how online power structures online may be slowing their progression, as Bruno flagged in the comment above. A study investigating Internet use in rural Indigenous communities across Australia found that a common reason given by study participants for low rates of Internet take-up was a lack of digital literacy (Rennie et al., 2013). Other research reinforces this finding, including a study by McCallum & Papandrea (2009) that found Indigenous communities in Australia lack the prerequisite knowledge and skills for intensive internet use. I’d be interested to better understand the role affected minorities play in championing online movements that impact them vs. amplification by less impacted audiences performing woeness online. This dichotomy may provide an interesting lens for future research.

McCallum, K. & Papandrea, F. (2009). Community business: the internet in remote Australian Indigenous communities. New Media & Society, 11(7), pp.1230-1251. DOI: 10.1177/1461444809342059 

Rennie, E., Crouch, A., Wright, A., & Thomas, J. (2013). At home on the outstation: Barriers to home Internet in remote Indigenous communities. Telecommunications Policy, 37(6), 583–593.

Hi Chloe,
I also enjoyed reading your paper, it was well written, exemplified, easy to read and I felt that it resonated with a general theme that seems to be coming out of the many papers, on different aspects, that are occurring in this conference. Some of which others have already mentioned in the above comments but also it crosses over to those that have written on veganism and how people jump on the band wagon for social currency.

I also feel that it partially crosses over with my paper on philanthropic organisations’ figure heads where they can be viewed with a touch of cynicism as though trying to promote themselves or where their existing profile has actually raised the cause they are standing for, such as Glen McGrath, or where the cause has raised the person’s social prominence as in DeRay McKesson.

This leads me to your and Bruno’s discussion about “Various Black American celebrities/public figures have talked about/promoted the Black Lives Matter movement and Black American issues over the last few years, helping the movement gain traction. Whereas I can’t think of too many really popular, household-name Indigenous Australians?” I too think this is in part, as Bruno suggested, with the percentage of Black Americans over the percentage of Indigenous Australians. In America there are many more in the film, music and sporting industries who have a huge social presence and if they already have a following it stands to reason that their following might also follow their causes.

I thought your example of the plastic straws and the lack of thought for, or consultation with, disabled people was classic. It was the epitome of bureaucracy at its worst. It also made me think of the Victorian state government when they decided to “reduce unconscious gender bias” by replacing pedestrian crossing lights representing male figures with female figures. So how did they depict females? Wearing dresses. Isn’t that stereotyping? And anyway who ever said that the stick figure is solely male? Don’t women wear trousers? And how did that change anything?

Thanks Chloe,

Hi Lee,
There does seem to be a lot of papers in the conference talking about topics that overlap/have things in common with my own paper — I’ve really enjoyed reading some of them, and there are some I haven’t managed to get around to reading yet.

I also agree that part of the success of the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. compared to Indigenous Australian’s issues in Australia has to do with the higher the percentage of Black Americans in comparison to the percentage of Indigenous Australians. I also think the lack of Indigenous Australians who are household names has to do the lack of opportunities open to Indigenous Australians to become famous, partially because of racism and partially because our industries tend to be smaller (because of our smaller population) so there’s just less opportunity overall.

That’s an interesting thing the Victorian government did. I wonder how much it cost them? Guess I’ll look that up later. I think people tend to see the traditional pedestrian crossing light signal as a man because of gendered toilets? Men’s toilets tends to have a figure wearing trousers, women’s usually have a figure wearing a dress. I’m with you with wondering what was actually accomplished, though? I’m sure that money could’ve been used in other ways to help women?

Hi Chloe,
Thank you for your reply and I agree with you regarding less opportunities, all round really.

I have to say as I was writing that about the man in trousers/women in dresses I did think about the toilets and it is true. I guess I was having a go because the whole Victorian Government thing was gender equality and there they were in breach of gender stereotyping (albeit one widely recognised). Personally I don’t care for any of that supposed gender bias in speech or symbols – manhole, chairman etc. I think you can read biases into any situation if you really want to but why concentrate money and effort on symbolic gestures that don’t change physical issues such as violence towards women, or women and children always being the main victims of wars and conflicts etc. Something meaningful -as you said “that money could have been used in others ways to help women”.


Hi Lee,
I think as a society we should make an effort to switch to less gender-biased language, especially for positions/jobs; using just “chair of the board” instead of “chairman of the board”. Why should “man” be the default? In some cases of gender-biased language like “manhole” it’s just easier to let them be, I’m sure there are plenty of nouns that we ignore the etymology of when we use them. But I agree with you about spending needless resources on symbolic efforts. Symbolic efforts tend to make me think that whoever is making them only wants to look like they’re helping and don’t actually care. Always makes me a little suspicious, to be honest.

Hi Chloe,

Thanks for sharing your paper. I thoroughly enjoyed reading you and recognised similarities in our discussions about performative identities on social media.

In particular, your reference to boyd’s (2007) argument about our awareness of our motives and the intention of our actions online in constructing our profiles, highlights to me the intent some users have when posting, commenting or tweeting, being that the sole outcome they are trying to achieve is to attract attention. I think it is interesting the correlations you made between this concept and a person’s well-made attempts to be a positive change or to bring awareness to a social issue, regardless of their knowledge or understanding of the topic they may be broadcasting about.

In my research into online health and fitness communities, I found that the act of a networked performance of identity, whereby the individual chooses to portray one identity of themselves on selected platforms, but not across all their social networking sites, meant that they could be one person online and another in their real lives. More importantly though, this meant that in the example of someone who was overweight and wanting to connect with a like-minded online community to achieve their weight loss goals, they could do so but in anonymity. By not having to deal with real life social unacceptance, being perceived as someone else online or just exposing part of yourself online, eradicated the fear of judgement that one might feel attending a gym in real life.

Did you find in your research that online social movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter provides opportunities for individuals to speak out in anonymity and gain support from the online social justice community? I was curious if anonymity is possible on a platform like Twitter, or if activism movements like these are more often than not engulfed in signals for an individual’s social currency gains? Like you say, while there is unlikely ill-intent behind an individual’s posts about issues of social injustice, I do feel that often one who is of political or celebrity status may be more aware of their online actions as it is equally an opportunity for them to signal for social currency gains.


Hi Kate,
I can’t say I really came across anything to do with anonymity and online activism, and I don’t use Twitter very much so I’m not able to draw upon my own knowledge/observations to help answer your question, too much. However, I’m aware that many people on Twitter have more anonymous accounts for things such as participating in fandom or just because they aren’t fond of the idea of sharing all their opinions, beliefs, and experiences under their real name. So I’d imagine that some people might gain support from online social justice or activism communities/movements using these anonymous accounts.

Hi Chloe – really interesting paper, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I used to use Twitter quite a lot but the performative aspect of it was too much to handle for me. Forgive me if you discussed this, I read the paper a few times but couldn’t find anything, so I was just wondering if there was way to determine the difference between performed wokeness and activism? Do you think there is genuine non-performed activism (or attempts at activism) online? Or does the nature of it necessitate that there is certainly always an aspect that is performed?

Hi Samuel,
You didn’t miss anything, I didn’t discuss genuine non-performed activism vs. performed wokeness. It didn’t come up during my research. Personally, I think that just because people are performing wokeness, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t any genuine care behind it. I think that a lot of people who perform wokeness do seem to at least think they care about the issues they’re talking about/things they’re retweeting. Even my example of DeRay McKesson — he started going to Black Lives Matter protests without any intention of gaining a Twitter following, but capitalised on it and used the opportunities he got as his Twitter following grew. And I think if somebody is engaging in activism for an issue they’re affected by, it’s less likely to be performative.

Thanks for your response! I think I agree, it’s something I found in my paper with authenticity, that just because something functions as performative, it does not necessarily mean it is experienced purely in that way for that individual. Your example of DeRay Mckesson is excellent. Thanks so much for clarifying.

Hi Chloe,
I think that the topic you have discussed is quite a unique one and was very interesting to read. I am new to Twitter and don’t consider myself to be someone that has participated in social activism, but I do understand what you mean about individuals using this idea of social activism for social currency rather than actively contributing towards important issues because they are passionate about them. I guess with each social networking site, there is a way to use these platforms as a way to appear knowledgeable and ‘woke’ on many social issues and I think Twitter is a great example of this.
I enjoyed your conclusion and agree with what you said about people not putting in the required effort to learn about these issues are harmful to oppressed and minority groups.
Thanks for the interesting read. I really enjoyed reading your paper and thought your topic was great for this conference!

Hi Sarah,
I don’t use Twitter much, but I’ve seen this sort of performative wokeness on other sites and I’ve heard it’s sort of worse on Twitter than elsewhere. Twitter seems to be the hub of online activism, so I thought it might examplify my point best.

Comments are closed.