Identity and Online Advocacy

Instagram And Its’ Functionalities to Facilitate Advocacy on Contemporary Social Issues


With the growth and dependency usage of social media, there has been major shifts of how people use social media, whether that would be using it as a tool to communicate with friends and family, or using it as a tool to keep up with the current affairs going around in the world. Instagram has been a hotspot for people to be able to express their voices, opinions and thoughts on current issues. Throughout the paper, there are multiple links between the benefits of using social media platforms and being an advocate. Such as, using Instagram as a platform to facilitate important conversations in regard to basic contemporary human rights issues. Firstly, mental health stigmas are a large reason as to why people who are suffering not seeking help from a professional. Due to COVID-19 and the dependence of social media, ordinary people are using their platform to raise awareness and help flatten the stigma. Secondly, throughout history, women have been frowned upon when trying to voice about their heinous sexual assault and rape experiences. Linking Instagram feminist activist accounts and hashtag such as; #metoo; this has helped women feel empowered and confident enough to speak up about their experience. Lastly, the notion of Asian hate has been extremely prevalent in the last 12 months, using Instagram hashtags such as; #StopAsianHate, has helped aid the importance and awareness of what is going around in the United States, in regard to discriminatory acts towards Asians.

Due to social isolation in 2020, there was an increase of people relying on social media as a communication tool, interestingly enough, some users used it more as a tool to keep up to date with news and information. In recent years, social media platforms have been used as an outlet to express people’s opinions, thoughts and ideas on current affairs (Croucher, Nguyen, & Rahmani, 2020). Instagram is one of the most commonly used social media sites at the moment, data analysts claim that Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform (Smith & Sanderson, 2015). Instagram is a photo sharing social media platform which currently has about nine million users (Humphrey, 2016). It first started as a tool that people used to purely communicate with friends and family, in recent years, social media platforms have been used as an outlet to express people’s opinions, thoughts and ideas on current issues (Croucher et al., 2020). Through the use of social influencers, hashtags and Instagram pages, these are all different aspects and examples in which Instagram has allowed its users to encourage advocacy for social change on contemporary social issues such as; mental health and the stigma around seeking help, feminist movements such as, the #metoomovement and cultural issues, specifically around Asian hate.

With the increasing use of social media, it is also becoming more widespread for people to suffer a mental health disorder. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), there has been a 13 percent rise in mental health condition in the last decade. Schooling, work performance, relationships between friends and family are some of the many reasons as to why mental health disorders are on the increase (Organisation, 2021). In history, there has been a large stigma around mental health. According to the authors, a stigma or stigmas can be defined as; “a spoiled belief that discredits a person in society” (Mak, Poon, Pun, & Cheung, 2007). Stigma’s represent a negative emotion, usually a prejudice view and discriminatory behavior towards a certain group or individual due to a belief that has been skewed or been taught to a group or an individual. It involves deprecating activities such as; labelling, stereotyping and discrimination towards the individual/group (Mak et al., 2007). For example; a stigma around mental health could be a person being too afraid of going to therapy because they do not want to be viewed as weak. However, in recent years, the stigma around mental health is still common, but it is being accepted more in today’s society. Digital spaces such as Instagram, have allowed and provided a safe outlet for its users to express their voices on important issues, such as; mental health issues (Feuston & Piper, 2019). A relevant case study is through a news article ‘The Rise of Mental Health Influencers.’ The article uses Divija Bhasin as an example, who is a girl that used her profile as a platform to raise awareness and help her followers who suffer from mental health disorders, later then attracted attention and gained a mass of followers, which then gave her an identity, as she now has a ‘platform’ to raise awareness and help the people who need guidance or advice in regards to mental health (Bhatt, 2020). She did this through creating short creative videos on reels that help people know how to cope with specific mental health illnesses. Another reason as to how social media allows its users to advocate on what they think is important. Recently, therapists around the world are going on Instagram to create awareness for mental health during the pandemic by also creating short videos, or reposting ‘memes’ and resource posts on their pages or similarly on their stories (Bhatt, 2020). This is a progressive form of creating an identity as traditionally speaking, mental health professionals, would not utilise social media as a means to educate people on the Internet. An example of mental health stigma and therapy being slowly accepted is using Whitney Goodman, a ‘therapy influencer,’ who is a qualified therapist. She states “I think every time I’m showing up online as a therapist as a real human, therapy becomes more normalised, because more people are showing me that they are willing to take the measures and courage to seek help” (Li, 2019). Earlier in 2021, Instagram partnered up with ‘National Eating Disorder Association in National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, they also partnered up with a small population of Instagram ‘influencers’ which used their platform create small videos on reels and pictures on their feed to influence the opportunity to open conversations about ‘perfectionism, body image and also facilitated conversations that the pictures and posts users see on the platform are not always reality (Tshinkel, 2021). We can see through the use of micro influencers, therapy influencers resorting to social media to promote mental health issues, we can also discuss other ways of advocating other issues through; feminism movements.

Throughout the due course of history, women who have tried to speak up about their sexual allegations such as rape or sexual assault experiences have been ‘punished’  and received negative reactions when they speak about their experience (Ahrens, 2006). The negative reactions usually result to the victim being silenced. Being silenced in essence, is seen as something or someone that is ‘powerless’ and unfortunately, women have been seen as powerless, due to the fact that they did not have basic human rights for an extended time period. They are usually silenced to stop rape victims from talking about their experiences to the general public as this would create a negative spotlight on the attacker (Ahrens, 2006). Hence, why a large population of victims have remained silent. Multiple famous feminist scholars have articulated that “rape serves an active function of reinforcing women’s powerlessness and ‘keeping women in their place’” (Ahrens, 2006), however, more women, about two thirds, find the courage and strength to break the silence and voice their stories on social media (Ahrens, 2006). Social media and photo sharing platforms, such as Instagram, has changed the nature of what it is fundamentally created for. As stated throughout, Instagram is turning into an advocacy hotspot for contemporary issues, and that is extremely relevant to feminist movements for anything sexual assault related. Throughout the platform, there is a vast amount of information and content available in regard to feminist content, which people can engage and educate themselves with (Mahoney, 2020). Furthermore, to make it even more simple for users to access information on feminist discourse, Instagram has created hashtags and ‘friendly’ terms for these movements. There are a few viral hashtags that are commonly used, to name a few; #metoo (which is explicitly used by women to share their sexual harassment experiences), #timesup (which is used for sexual harassment, assault and workplace discrimination in the workplace) (Mahoney, 2020). Focusing on #metoo movement, it started in 2006 by a civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, who first used the phrase on social media to raise awareness around sexual assault. However, the phrase became ‘viral’ in 2017 when actress and activist Alyssa Milano, used her platform to advocate about sexual assault and if any of her followers had been affected by or related to the stories being shared they could reply to her Instagram story with a #metoo (Acquaviva, O’Neal, & Clevenger, 2021). Another way in which Instagram has facilitated conversation and awareness around female sexual assault experiences and harassment, is through the ‘metoomvmt’ page on Instagram. This page essentially posts about current affairs around sexual harassment amongst women around the world, relevant facts/information about sexual harassment and has story highlight tabs on ‘act too,’ which is a new movement, they have created and survivors tab, which outlines the survivors name and their story and experience with sexual abuse, harassment and rape (Instagram, 2021). This is a relevant example as pages like these, in this instance, the metoomvmt account allows people who are interested in feminist movements and especially women who have been affected by sexual assault or harassment to re-share on their feed or their story to raise awareness to their followers, friends and family about such issues. Through the use of activism accounts on Instagram and hashtags, this has abled women to feel empowered and not discriminated towards if spoken about their issue. Similarly, this ties into cultural issues and how Instagram has facilitated resources for those affected.

Racism has been around for a long period of time. However, it is appearing a lot more prevalent in the media in the last 12 months, due to the prejudice views towards Asians around the world. With the ongoing COVID global pandemic, there has been a significant increase amount of racism, discrimination and violence against Asians, particularly in the United States. There has been over 100 cases of hate crimes reported per day. Some of which that have been reported are; racial slurs, wrongful workplace termination, physical violence and extreme social distancing (Croucher et al., 2020). A way in which Instagram and its features allows its users to stand against the Asian discrimination during the outbreak is through the messages and campaigns that are being used as hashtags on hashtags or image posts. The hashtags/campaigns that are used to fight against Asian hate amid the breakout was: #IAmNotAVirus (Croucher et al., 2020). This hashtag essentially facilitated the conversation and allowed users to click on the hashtag to see all the unjust resources of how Asians are being treated during COVID-19. Another recent relevant case study is in regard to the Atlanta shooting. Earlier in March 2021, there was several different shootings taken by one extremist man, targeting directly at different Asian owned massage parlours. Eight people were confirmed dead, six of which were Asian women that were staff at massage parlours. The attack according to a US senate, “looked really motivated, racially motivated” (Sarah Lynch, 2021). Furthermore, this attack had led to important and large discourses on Instagram around the discrimination acts towards Asians. Using Eva Chen, she is Instagram’s director of fashion partnerships, she used her platform to congregate a conference on Instagram Live, with a couple Asian ladies who work in different industries to discuss the increased unfair and unjust treatment they have seen in the last 12 months in their workplaces. Primarily, discussed the importance of stopping anti-Asian hate that is extremely widespread in the United States (Liu, 2021). Similarly, #StopAsianHate was a trending hashtag globally, in which famous celebrities such as; BTS and Kris Jenner used to promote the stopping of the hatred.

In conclusion, the increased use of social media platforms, like Instagram is not only used solely as a communication tool, in recent years, it is evident to see that platforms such as Instagram, are capable of being a place for people to shape their own identity through advocating what they deem as important, and creating opportunities for social change. The use of media ‘influencers,’ Instagram reels and memes are being utilised to help aid the stigma around mental health and reaching out to seek professional health from a therapist or doctor. Though the use of hashtags and certain Instagram feminist profiles, these have encouraged women and people to speak up about their experiences around sexual harassment and rape. Finally, through the use of celebrities and hashtags, this has facilitated conversations about the discrimination acts towards Asians, specifically Asians in the U.S. By celebrities utilisng these functions, this has helped create and raise awareness around the unjust acts that have occurred. To conclude, Instagram is more than just a recreational platform in today’s society.

16 thoughts on “Instagram And Its’ Functionalities to Facilitate Advocacy on Contemporary Social Issues

  1. Hey Allan!

    This was such a great paper to read, I love how you explore multiple issues related to both mental health, racism and sexism. The issues you discussed are all very important and issues, and made this paper very relevant.

    Do you think that there are other social networking platforms that are also suited to facilitating online advocacy?

    Once again, well done on your paper 🙂

    1. Hey Chloe,

      Thank you so much for reading my paper! Appreciate your comments and feedback.

      Oh for sure, the most common one that we can all agree on is, TikTok. TikTok is an emerging platform that is growing so rapidly. With having a platform growing this fast, this will definitely cause an influx in facilitating advocacy for such important contemporary issues, like I’ve mentioned throughout my conference!

      Thank you again 🙂

  2. Hi Allan,

    What a compelling read this was on such an important issue! Mental health is perhaps one of the most important topics in todays society, especially over the last year since the start of the pandemic. It is definitely a issue that is big amongst our generation and it was interesting to read about how Instagram was contributing.

    After doing some research on the matter, I found an article by Budenz et al., (2020) that stated 18-29 year old’s made up the largest group of adults using social media and that this group was found to be using these platforms to talk about their mental health and problems to seek support. With your point of destigmatizing having a mental health condition, I think that these platforms can become better places with more acceptance to help battle the issue.

    Do you think that these platforms could be part of the problem as well? I would be interesting to see if there were any negative repercussions from the use of these positive groups and hashtags.

    This was an insightful paper on some very big issues and I particularly looked into the reference from Smith and Sanderson stating that Instagram was one of the most popular apps and I would like to see the comparison with Tiktok as I believe that Tiktok is now one of the most popular platforms for talking about bigger issues such as mental health and feminism movements.

    Budenz, A., Klassen, A., Purtle, J., Yom-Tov, E., Yudell, M., & Massey, P. (2020). “If I was to post something, it would be too vulnerable:” University students and mental health disclosures on instagram. Journal Of American College Health, 1-10.

    1. Hey Jasmine!

      Thank you so much for your comment and the extra research you did on this matter, really means a lot.

      It is definitely interesting and uplifting to see that such a large population are using sites like Instagram and TikTok to talk about mental health and seek the support they need. Yes, I definitely agree with your statement “platforms can become better places with more acceptance to help battle the issue.”

      I do yes, think that these platforms are also an issue, as Akram and Kumar have stated the negative effects of social media, which consists of; hacking, bullying and addiction (Akram & Kumar, 2017). As you can see all of these different negative attributes of social media, can make one’s mental health worse or can obtain one.

      Thank you again!

      Akram, W., & Kumar, R. (2017). A study on positive and negative effects of social media on society. International Journal of Computer Sciences and Engineering, 5(10), 347-354.

  3. Hi Allan,
    What a great topic of choice and a very well-written and researched paper! You’ve included a good amount of case studies I really enjoyed reading this. Mental health is such an important topic and it’s amazing to see a lot of people advocating for this and speaking up for mental health. Especially during Covid times, conversations regarding mental health needs to be had as a lot of people are feeling depressed, alone and with the losses of friends/families, this can be extremely tough on them.

    I agree that – The use of media ‘influencers,’ Instagram reels, and memes are being utilized to help aid the stigma around mental health and reaching out to seek professional health from a therapist or doctor. I think this is one of the benefits of social media. It allows people to stay connected, regardless of whether you’re an influencer or a follower. Social media allows its users to see and realize that they are definitely not alone and there are other people who are in the exact same boat, this makes influencers and users feel more ‘relatable’ as a result, and sometimes it’s comforting to know that.

    I like how you’ve included certain movements to depict how social media has facilitated advocacy on contemporary social issues like the #metoo movement. This has become a sensation in terms of encouraging the ‘silenced’ or ‘voiceless’ to speak up on their sexual harassment experiences to encourage other victims to do the same. In that way, social media does a great job in allowing users to speak up and regain their power through initiating powerful movements like this one.

    I’ve written an essay on the #metoo movement and the influence Twitter has on this and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this 🙂 Here’s the link

    1. Hey Saranya!

      Thank you for reading my paper and the generous feedback! I agree, mental health is such an important topic and it is amazing to see more people are having discourses about it, but in my opinion, I really believe that it is still such an under-spoken topic/issue, but I have high hopes that this will change in the upcoming years!

      Yes, that is a very relevant comment about influencers. Most people give influencers a hard time for the nature of their job/roles in society, but people aren’t giving the right ones the attention they deserve! Sure, there are some influencers who post/do questionable things, but then there are also a large amount of influencers or even pages that do the right thing and advocate about things that actually matter in the world. Which makes them seem a little bit more authentic and vulnerable. Which also makes them seem relatable, and that is a trait that a lot of people look for when following an influencer on social media.

      In terms of your comment about movements such as me too, I definitely do agree that social media has really helped this be an easier and safer space for women/people to talk about their experiences, but there is still a very long way to go, as there are just as many pages countering issues like this! And it’s super heart breaking to see.

      Thank you again,

      I will definitely have a look at your article! 🙂

  4. Hi Allan!

    What a tough but empowering subject to write about, mental health is so important and because of social media people are voicing their experiences and personal stories to help many other people.

    I think with mental health it is so easy to feel alone and categories yourself as an outcaste, and as stated in your paper especially with the pandemic people were physically and mentally forced to be by themselves with their own thoughts. when you talked about stigma around mental health I think that allowed for many readers to relate and I can see that through the conversation about your paper which is amazing.

    I do wonder though because Instagram ‘influencers’ are sometimes not taken seriously, do you think the conversation that they create about mental health can be over looked or seen as just being a “trend”? because it seems that everytime I go onto Instagram or especially Tik Tok creators are always discussing mental health in a comical way which in the future may desensitise us from actually discussing mental health as a very serious topic.

    Amazing paper!!

    Feel free to have a look as my paper as well

    Thank you

    1. Hey Tamlyn,

      Thank you so much for taking the time out to read my paper! Really appreciate it :))

      I definitely agree with your statement, “having a mental health disorder can make it so easy to feel alone and an outcaste.” I really wished this wasn’t the case and it shouldn’t be the case, but unfortunately it is, and it makes me so upset. But also thank you for your comment about other readers being able to relate to the conference paper, as that was the intention.

      In terms of your question, it is a very tricky question to answer, as at the end of the day it’s all up to personal experience and who you follow on such platforms. For me personally, I follow a few social media influencers (male and female), who are very genuine and authentic to their followers. Even if I/we don’t know them personally, you can kind of gauge what kind of person they are. From what they post, their captions and what they post on their stories.

      But the ones I do follow that are very vocal about mental health illnesses, are usually the ones that are always discussing what they are going through or how they are feeling. And I think that it’s a really nice thing to do, as a lot of younger people follow them and may have an illness themselves, but are now willing to discuss or reach out.

      Hope that answers your question Tamlyn!

      I’ll definitely have a look at your article

  5. Hi Allan!
    I really enjoyed reading your paper.

    I think that online advocacy is so important nowadays, as Parsons states “A dictionary definition of an advocate is defined as a person who speaks, writes or argues in support or defense of a person or cause” (2016. p. 2). I find it particularly important in the topic of mental health and how social media has really changed the way in which we understand mental health issues. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I have found great comfort in seeing such strong activism and advocacy for people who suffer with mental health disorders.
    I think that when you stated, ” a stigma around mental health could be a person being too afraid of going to therapy because they do not want to be viewed as weak” it really resonated with me and I really think that whilst mental health is still such a taboo subject, people have really used social media’s affordances to give voice to people who need support and help. I like to think of examples of many celebrities who have used social media for this reason, such as Demi Lovato and Ryan Reynolds, and also social media influencers such as Zoella who have all been open about their struggles.
    With such high-profile people using social media applications that everyone has access to, I find that it has really helped create a community in which fans and followers are able to relate and interact with people they admire.
    Do you think that mental health will become normalized and will be properly understood in the future? Do you think that maybe education will reinforce this or maybe other platforms online that will evolve?

    Hope you have a great day!

    Emma Auge

    1. Hey Emma,

      Thank you so much for your comment. It’s so reassuring to see someone else feel as strongly about mental health and the stigma as I do. Because like you said, it is such a taboo topic, which it shouldn’t be by the way. It makes me so upset that it is considered as a taboo topic, especially around the male demographic. Hence, why I try to be the difference and let my mates know that it is completely okay to talk about their feelings and their problems to me or to a professional.

      I could argue that mental health is just as important than physical health, if not more important, as cognitive health is the start of many physical health issues, like weight gain/loss, digestive issues, chronic addictions etc. But yes, having those high profile, or influencers if you will, being so open and vulnerable to their followers makes it that much easier to accept that it is in-fact normal and absolutely okay to suffer from mental health and that you are no different or less than a person who doesn’t suffer.

      I’m really not sure, but at this rate, it looks like it is starting to be normalised, but I think it will take a lot more work for schools and secondary education institutions to include that in their curriculum. Although, recently, there was a petition to include mandatory, standardised and improved education on sexual assault in all WA schools. From reading that, it made me angry because this shouldn’t be a topic that has to be considered or discussed by the government. It should already be a compulsory topic to discuss, especially in all boys schools. However, reading about this though, gave me a glimpse of hope that a little bit of more work can hopefully get mental health into school’s curriculums.

      I hope I answered your question. Feel free to add anymore comments/feedback in regards to my comment, and I will be more than happy to discuss it with you 🙂

  6. Interesting paper and extremely relevant currently, it has been great to see how fast positive social movements have been able to grow thanks to social media platforms and with how fast news seems to be constantly travelling now, it only makes sense that social media is the best way of keeping up to date on it.

    I don’t think anyone would have expected social media to have the positive and negative impacts on the world that it has had, with so many world changing movements gaining large amounts of traction on places like Instagram and Twitter, it’s good to see this technology being utilised in such a way.

    I think on a whole, we have seen more positive than negative but I am curious as to what you think of issues such as performative advocacy and protesting, as with the speed and ease at which we are able to repost and share information, how quickly that message can be lost on people who may only be giving these issues a quick glance before re-sharing and never reading again. Although I strongly believe that on a whole it is helping these movements and issues much more successfully than other mediums, I’m always curious about whether we are becoming desensitised or conditioned to share and spread awareness but are then lacking the motivation to do anything beyond the initial repost.

    I really enjoyed the paper! Hope you have time to read my paper on influencers and their relationship with fast fashion (and its great ecological impact on the world)

    1. Hey James,

      Thank you for reading my article and providing feedback, I really appreciate it.

      Isn’t it crazy to see how fast and much social media platforms have progressed, to where it is today?

      As to answer your question about performative advocacy and protesting, I can’t answer for a general population, but I have seen a lot of people, including myself, fall under this circle. As much as I hate to admit it haha. However, if I re-share something that isn’t factual or isn’t correct, and I see someone re-share a post that is different to what I have previously shared. I will actively, read into it and educate myself on both sides of the story, so that I can better my understanding and do better. In saying that, I have seen countless amount of people who share things just so that they can ‘fit in’ with the crowd and do the absolute opposite of what they have preached on their online presence. That is something that I cannot agree or stand by.

      Similarly, about the desensitising and conditioning to re share. Again, I can’t speak on a whole, but I can speak in terms of my social community on Instagram. Most of the time, a lot of my friends or followers re-share about important issues that they are super passionate in, but can’t do much, only because they don’t necessarily have enough resources to do much more than to raise awareness, sign petitions and going to protests. But they do that, to make sure that their friends and followers are aware of the things that are happening around the world, so that they be educated or to take accountability/responsibility of their previous past actions and learn from it.

      I hope I’ve answered all your questions 🙂

  7. Hi Allan,
    Your paper was an interesting read, loved the different examples and case studies that you provided. However, I feel like if you had focused on one or two examples it would have given you more space to expand on the examples that you provided in more detail.

    The example you gave of Eva Chen using Instagram to hold conferences and discussions about the recent attacks on the Asian community was an interesting example that highlighted your point of using Instagram’s affordances to advocate. You mainly focused on the US implications and perspectives. How do you think the events in the US has impacted the way advocacy has occurred elsewhere in the world, such as Australia?

    Feel free to also check out my paper as it is also on the #StopAsianHate movement –

    1. Hi Terina!

      Thank you so much for reading and enjoying my article! Also thank you for the feedback, I really appreciate it, and will keep a note for future references :).

      I think that the events and the advocacy that have occurred and started in the U.S definitely made Australian raised Asians or even people of any colour get a better understanding and insight of how poorly people of colour or Asians have been treated around the world. Luckily in Australia, it isn’t as prevalent with these attacks but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen here in Australia either, just not as explicit or vigorous.

      I hope that answers your question 🙂

      And for sure, I’m very eager to read more about the injustice treatments towards Asians :).

  8. Hi,
    Your paper was very instructive, I really enjoy how you tackled for example the Atlanta shooting, and that specific paragraph could have been a whole debate in itself. You could have pushed it so much further but I understand that this paper is not solely based on that.

    Great Paper though!

    1. Hi Faneeshwar,

      Thank you for reading my conference paper! And thank you for the constructive feedback, I will take note for future papers! But also glad you enjoyed reading it :).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *