Together they formed a grid of millions of magazine-style captures of celebrities, spur-of-the-moment selfies and filtered snaps from weddings or other special occasions. The official goal: a show of support for other women.
An accompanying hashtag, #womensupportingwomen, often was the only sign of the campaign’s intent, along with friends’ Instagram handles to encourage participation. And users quickly began to wonder: What’s the point? To some observers of social media activism, #challengeaccepted represents a clear example of “slacktivism” — campaigns based on social platforms that require little effort of participants. There’s no donation requested, no volunteer shift required, just a few minutes to post a message or image that people are unlikely to fight over.
They say photo-driven campaigns can become a powerful push for social change. But they feel this latest effort so far lacks a concrete goal. “Successful selfie protests made what’s invisible visible,” said Mona Kasra, an assistant professor of digital media design at the University of Virginia. “They are effective when they shift public perception, when they create a counter-culture, when they resist, when they claim a place online.”
By Thursday, more than 6 million Instagram posts had used the #challengeaccepted hashtag. Others just included the phrase “challenge accepted” in their post, making it difficult to count total participation.
Some participants praised the posts as a straightforward way for women to support one another — one that comes days after US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s passionate speech on the House floor calling out sexist culture. Tara Abrahams joined the millions of women posting under the hashtag after a friend invited her to share. She chose a shot of herself smiling, her dark hair streaming across the square frame. Before posting it, the philanthropic adviser from New York added a caption encouraging people to check their voter registration status and make a plan to vote in November.
“I just kept smiling because I saw these very inspiring women flood my feed,” said Abrahams, who also chairs a non-profit focused on girls’ access to education in 11 other countries. “I know that there are real women doing the real work. Instagram can be where the activism begins, but it’s not where it ends.” Some researchers are encouraged by the debate. They consider it a sign that many Americans’ expectations for social media communication have been honed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and large demonstrations demanding change in US policing following the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.
Questions about this latest photo challenge also mirror reaction to the #blackoutTuesday push in early June, stemming from an effort within the music industry to halt normal operations for a day. Then, public attention focused on social media, where users posted all-black images on their Facebook or Instagram accounts as a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Some posters backtracked after activists criticised the action, saying it was drowning out existing material already posted by Black users.
The conversation about #challengeaccepted is further complicated by questions about its origin. Some social media users have tied it to ongoing work to raise awareness of women killed by their male partners in Turkey. But that link is difficult to trace definitively. An Instagram spokesman said posts in Turkey about violence against women date to the start of July, while the black-and-white aesthetic and accompanying #womensupportingwomen hashtag that flooded the photo-sharing app this week first showed up in mid-July among users in Brazil before spreading to the United States.