As you scroll through social media, it’s likely that your feeds have been inundated with Ukrainian flags and Instagram stories flooded with infographics about the war. Sharing support and information about the ongoing crisis is a good use of social media, but it must not be mistaken as a substantive action. Social media is a great platform for connectivity, but a risky one for making change. Some of its significant downsides are the prominence of scams and virtue signaling.
You might have seen Instagram graphics that make claims like “repost and we’ll donate a meal to Ukrainian refugees.” Scammers see social justice causes and humanitarian crises as a way to make money. Many scams are extremely prominent on social media feeds and often masquerade as legitimate charities or enterprises. For example, the largest Black Lives Matter Facebook page, which raised $100,000 and had 700,000 followers, was a complete scam, CNN reported. It was owned and operated by a white Australian man who had no affiliation with BLM. In 2021, a report found that people lost $796 million to fraud via social media platforms. Since the war began, thousands of fake charities and war scammers have already appeared, targeting those looking to donate to Ukraine.
These scams are harmful, and they capitalize on performative activism. Many of these fake charities and inaccurate infographics are perpetuated by people more concerned with appearing altruistic than effecting actual change. People reposting scams and misinformation are at best naive and at worst virtue signaling — when one posts on social media relating to social or political issues “for the intention of receiving praise of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not.” While posting a black square, flag or infographic is not fraud, it can be difficult to distinguish sketchy sources and misinformation from genuine news.
Social media is a great way to show solidarity, but it is not a replacement for action. For example, the #BlackoutTuesday campaign in June 2020 demonstrated solidarity against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd. Still, posting a black square was not an actual form of activism, though many viewed posting as participation in BLM, “exempting” them from donating or getting involved off of social media. Posting is a gesture, not an action, and it should not be perceived as such.
The best way to contribute to the war effort and help Ukranians is to spend time doing research and contributing through more traditional means. While it may be appealing to donate to name-brand large international organizations like the Red Cross, it is more beneficial to donate to smaller-scale charities based in Ukraine instead. Some great organizations include Hope for Ukraine, United Help Ukraine and Save the Children. Charity Navigator is a useful tool to aid in further research. Other ways to help include paying for hotels and Airbnbs for Ukrainian refugees.
Supporting organizations who are based in Ukraine or had operations there before the war is essential. Non-financial means of helping those impacted by the war include donating food, clothing and other supplies, such as through organizations like Nova Ukraine. Attending peace rallies and protests is another way to demonstrate support and spread awareness at home, thus keeping up the pressure on governments to continue their support of the Ukrainian cause.
We should continue to show solidarity and spread information about the war on social media, but we must not confuse posting or reposting with making a difference. Posting will never be as impactful as donating your time or money to help Ukraine. We cannot “influence” our way out of a crisis, whether it’s systemic racism or a war.
Annika Reff PO ’25 is from Los Angeles, California. She enjoys consuming an unhealthy amount of caffeine and listening to the soothing voice of Michael Barbaro.