Using the site as a weapon against social injustice, meet the activists taking down the establishment one shot at a time
No one can really dispute the power of social media. Whether it's raising awareness for once-ignored issues, or helping to bring down entire governments, sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are now stronger than ever. Offering people the chance to take pressing political problems into their own hands, it's become a whole new way of addressing everyday social injustice. “Instagram has a way of uniting complete strangers in a way that Facebook, for example, does not,” explains Amber Amour, founder of #StopRapeEducate. “It's a useful tool because it allows one to reach a large audience, and to be heard.” But how effective can one image really be? Thrashing through the breakfast snaps and selfies, we round up the most influential accounts that you should be following now. Like, right now.
With their slogan emblazoned across the chests of basically everyone – from Cara Delevingne to Miley Cyrus – the notorious Free The Nipple movement has had no shortage of publicity recently. Founded by actress and filmmaker Lina Esco, its goal is pretty self-explanatory – to shatter our oversexualised perceptions of the female body. “Just 100 years ago it was considered obscene and illegal to show an ankle, but one day we will look back at the nipple in the same way,” Lina explains. “A women topless does NOT equal to nudity. It's about having the choice.” And regardless of Instagram's strict nudity policies, their account is still going strong (with just under 200k followers at last count). “We hope the conversation will get so loud that actual laws change. That DC hears us. That the world realizes thats its time to evolve not revolve.”
Born out of desperation and despondency, Amber Amour started the #StopRapeEducate campaign after she was sexually assaulted by her roommate last year. “The cops managed to get a recorded confession (from him), but still told me they needed more evidence,” she remembers. “I lost hope in our justice system at that point and decided to do something about it”. And so she did – initially by scrawling damning chalk art across the pavements of New York, then by packing her Instagram with shocking statistics. Now, with educational initiatives being developed and a world tour on the agenda, her once-silenced voice is only getting louder. “I hope that my account inspires people around the world to stay positive,” she says, hopefully. “If it changes even one life, I'll be happy.”
Poet Alyssa Seibert has swapped images for words with her Instagram account. With an aim to create short, punchy poems that raise awareness of worldwide social issues – from Sandra Bland to slut shaming – her words have become a new form of weaponry. And on top of this, she's also the admin of major intersectional feminist account @feminism.is.cool, which is ticking over nicely with over 17,000 followers.
“What attracted me to Instagram was its ability to share with a wider audience the stories I see everyday”, writes photojournalist Ruddy Roye. His personal account (along with @everydayblackamerica) is an unflinching visual commentary on the black American experience – swooping from the streets of his local community to the rallies of the Black Panthers and the KKK. It's an electrifying glimpse into a world that is rarely seen or, more often than not, ignored. “If I am able to make White America, or the wider sections of this world see the plight of black folk – not as victims but as people equal in every sense of the word – then maybe the world can see how similar we all are.”
Launched by Miley Cyrus and Joan Jett earlier this year, this non-profit charity aims to “fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth, and other vulnerable populations.” And, considering it's only been functioning for a couple of months, it's not doing all that bad so far. With over 320,000 followers already, its smiley and saccharine approach is clearly paying off – and Miley has been behind it every step of the way. A word of warning, though: if you do decide to follow, you better expect A LOT of hyper-positive imagery (mainly in the form of empowering quotes, balloons and unicorn onesies).
Long, thick and all the colours of the rainbow – the power of pit hair is now stronger than ever. Still reviled by many, it's slowly being reclaimed by every modern feminist worth her salt, with cultural behemoths Taylor Swift and Madonna getting in on the trend this year. “On popular TV shows like LOST and The Walking Dead, where the characters are living in peril for months and not able to bathe, the women still find time to maintain hairless armpits,” writes Anna Biotics, the founder of Lady Pit Hair. “It's extremely unrealistic.” With an aim to normalise the natural look, her account has helped changed the way women see their body hair by encouraging people to post their own pit pics. “My current goal is to see a female identified character on a mainstream television show who is proud of her body hair, while still being feminine and a character to admire.”
Born after the controversial acquittal of George Zimmerman in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement originated as an outraged Twitter hashtag, and has now become one of the biggest social media movements of the last few years. With innocent African Americans being killed by the police on an almost weekly basis, the injustice can feel overwhelming – and it's easy to see why despondency levels are at an all time high. The official Instagram keeps things light though; and besides all the outrageous statistics, there's also a lot of great art and photography to help sketch in the silver lining.
The Hunger Games actress and activist is a vocal critic of racism and cultural appropriation, with her cuttingly eloquent video “Don't Cash Crop My Cornrows” hitting nearly two million views on YouTube this year. Now, she's taken those well-informed views to Instagram – and despite it's culturally aware content, it's not her account that's been getting the most attention. In July, she took to Kylie Jenner's comments box and lambasted her for wearing cornrows whilst ignoring the very real struggles of black Americans. “when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter,” she wrote. Probably worth noting now that this is a 16-year-old girl we're talking about.
Feminist Thought Bubble was started by young artist Molly Williams after a series of shockingly sexist encounters. “I made the first drawing after a conversation with my mother about chivalry,” she remembers. “ We were talking about how frustrating it is that some men are polite and then boast to each other about how ‘chivalry isn't dead,’ as though an antiquated, sexist system is the only reason they would ever do something nice for a woman.” This annoyance quickly escalated into a much-loved portrait series of women – both famous and not – drawn on her Instagram alongside empowering quotes. “If anyone looks at one of the drawings and comes away from it with increased empathy and understanding for the person pictured, the drawing is doing its job.”
Already a firm Dazed favourite, 22-year-old photographer Petra Collins has been tearing apart gender constraints since she first discovered the camera. “The lines are really being blurred between masculine and feminine, and I think we have a more fluid acceptance of gender,” she told us last year. “I hope that this means change for the better and more tolerance and equality.” Her Instagram is a brilliant collection of some of her most challenging work, and is both beautiful to look at and highly intelligent – whether she's promoting planned parenthood and or poking fun at the pastel pastiche of femininity.