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The rise of ‘swipe-up’ activism on Instagram

Black Lives Matter activists and supporters who have flooded Instagram are using its “swipe-up” feature, initially built for creators and brands, as a way to usher in a new wave of online social activism.

In recent weeks, social media platforms have seen a fierce groundswell of posts encouraging followers to take action after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police officers in Minneapolis.

Users have called for civil action, sharing videos, signing petitions, and donating to various nonprofit organizations and bail funds, as well as participating in virtual protests like #BlackoutTuesday. But one of the most widespread and persistent forms of activism is the “swipe up” prewritten email campaign. 

Tangible and convenient

It works like this: Users generate a shareable link with the recipients, subject line, and text filled out. They then place the link in either their Instagram Stories or their Instagram bio.

When you swipe up on supporters’ Instagram Stories, the link opens the prewritten message in your email app. Then all you have to do is fill in your name and city, and press send to show your support.

It takes seconds, and less than five taps on a screen. And that’s the appeal: Speed. 

“So many people care about taking tangible action, but people also want convenience,” said Jessy Hoeschler, a Los Angeles resident who supports the demonstrations against racism and police brutality. “We haven’t seen anything like this at this magnitude. I think the new method is efficient in spreading information.”

Hoeschler — who works in fashion design — created an automatically generated email link addressing L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez, calling on them to defund the Los Angeles Police Department budget. Though she didn’t have access to the swipe-up link feature, friends did, and began sharing her email.

For someone with just over 1,000 followers, Hoeschler said she was “floored” by how many people shared her swipe-up link.

She said she was inspired by artist Maasai Godwin, who created the viral prewritten email template to send to Minnesota officials to insist on the conviction of the four officers involved in the murder of George Floyd.

Two other Instagram users also credited Godwin with the creation of the original prewritten email demanding justice for Floyd. 

Godwin’s Instagram post about the link garnered over 310,000 likes, 11,000 comments, and was shared by musicians Chole X Halle and The Glorious Dead, as well as actor Colin Hanks and model Tess Holliday. Godwin later created a similar email template addressing Louisville, Kentucky, officials regarding the murder of Breonna Taylor

Godwin didn’t respond to requests for comment about her email campaigns from Digital Trends. 

Rapid adoption

Automatically generated email links like these have spread rapidly throughout the platform, and many users have composed posts outlining how to create a baseline template for their own cities. Instagram user @ajvni created a link demanding that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer reallocate funds away from the NYPD. It garnered more than 70,000 clicks, according to her engagement data. And another user, @mel_melt, created the website Email for Justice, which allows users to set up their own email campaigns, or build off of others. 

And the campaigns appear to be working.

On Wednesday, the Minneapolis Police Department said its servers were “inundated with communications,” leading some people to receive bounce-back emails. The next day, Los Angeles’ Garcetti announced he would cut $250 million from the city’s police budget and redirect it to communities of color following the outcry from his constituents. 

But not everyone has the ability to add links to their Instagram Stories. The feature is typically reserved for those with verified accounts or with more than 10,000 followers, and was intended as a way to let brands and influencers promote themselves.

Many users and activists are calling on the social media platform to release the feature for everyone to support the spread of resources for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Nearly 5,000 people have signed a petition asking CEO Adam Mosseri to release the feature for everyone. 

Instagram did not immediately respond to requests for comment made by Digital Trends. We will update the story when we hear back.

you know what would be helpful right now? if @instagram made it possible to swipe up with less than 10k followers so people can go directly resources, videos, audio, books, etc. on what's happening.

— nadirah (@hinadirah) June 1, 2020

Hoeschler told Digital Trends she was lucky, because many of her close friends have the ability to post links in their Stories.

“I wanted to do something that’s really fast, and if it weren’t for the option to have an automatic email, we wouldn’t be seeing the spreading of vital information this way,” she said.

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Meira Gebel
Meira Gebel is a freelance reporter based in Portland. She writes about tech, social media, and internet culture for Digital…
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