BlackLivesMatter hashtag taken over by blank images on Instagram

James Cook
·4-min read
The "Black Lives Matter" hashtag has become filled with black squares as people express their support for the movement - Instagram
The "Black Lives Matter" hashtag has become filled with black squares as people express their support for the movement - Instagram

Activists have urged people and brands supporting the Black Lives Matter movement to stop flooding the movement’s online hashtag with blank images from the Blackout Tuesday campaign.

The thousands of celebrities, companies and other supporters who have posted black squares on social media to support protests in the US over the death of George Floyd have inadvertently filled searches for “Black Lives Matter” with blank images, campaigners warn.

On Instagram, when users search for posts for Black Lives Matter, they are now met by a wall of blanked out images or even a completely black screen, which activists claim is hiding images and news about the ongoing protests.

“Y’all are really posting blank black squares and pushing down critical information that the country and the world need to see in the middle of an uprising,” wrote one Twitter user.

“This is counter-productive. Please understand what you’re doing before you do it. Amplify black voices WITHOUT silencing the movement,” wrote another.

Campaigners have called on supporters to instead use the hashtag “Blackout Tuesday” on Instagram and Twitter to avoid overwhelming searches for Black Lives Matter posts.

“We know that’s it no intent to harm but to be frank, this essentially does harm the message. We use the hashtag to keep people updated. Please stop using the hashtag for black images,” wrote Kenidra Woods, a St Louis activist.

As part of the Blackout Tuesday campaign, many companies and brands have changed their online profiles or made changes to their services to hold a virtual blackout to express solidarity with protesters.

Celebrities and musicians including Rihanna, Britney Spears and Kylie Jenner have all posted black squares on social media or pledged to remain silent for a day in support of the movement. Record labels and artists have pushed promoted the campaign by replacing their social media profiles with black images.

Instagram said on Monday that it had accidentally blocked some people from posting images with the Black Lives Matter hashtag as the volume of posts with that tag triggered its anti-spam systems.

"We have technology that detects rapidly increasing activity on Instagram to help combat spam," the company wrote, "given the increase in content shared to #blacklivesmatter, this technology is incorrectly coming into effect."

Moments of reflection are being held on the BBC’s Radio 1 and Radio 2, while Apple Music and Spotify have both publicly pledged their support for the movement.

Spotify will add eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence to several playlists and podcasts on its service to mark the amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was accused of kneeling on Floyd.

The Blackout Tuesday movement was started by Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas, two music industry executives in the US who work at Apple-owned Platoon and Atlantic Records.

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The online protest comes as Twitter suspended hundreds of accounts which falsely claimed that US authorities had jammed communications during protests in Washington.

The social network said the accounts were suspended as part of an investigation into the “dcblackout” hashtag, and centered around its policy on stopping spam and manipulation of its site.

"We’re taking action proactively on any coordinated attempts to disrupt the public conversation around this issue," a Twitter spokesman said. 

Social media services such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have all been used by protesters to record footage of alleged police violence as well as documenting protests around the world.

Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who filmed Floyd while he was pinned down, initially posted the video to her Facebook profile.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg praised her actions in a post published on Sunday.

"As hard as it was to watch, I'm grateful that Darnella Frazier posted on Facebook her video of George Floyd's murder because we all needed to see that," he wrote.