RUSSIA'S invasion of Ukraine has been a heart-wrenching watch for us all. Fifteen days and counting of violence, destruction and aggression has rendered all other Western news to feel insignificant and unworthy of a mention. 

Over the weekend, a broadband outage in my area left me without access to my social media for 36 hours.

As I huffed and puffed at the sheer inconvenience of it, my self-awareness smacked some perspective into me, reminding me that at that very same moment families in Ukraine were fleeing their homes, sheltering underground and saying goodbye to loved ones unsure if they would ever be safely reunited.

Suddenly a day without updating my Insta story didn’t seem so bad. 

When I was reconnected to my beloved socials, I scrolled through my feeds to check what weekend shenanigans I had missed. Amidst the deluge of Bottomless Brunch shots and the multitude of “Sunday Funday” captions was post after post about the war in Ukraine. 

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The use of social media to spread information on a global scale has been a key tool for the advancement of social causes. It is arguably one of the biggest advantages of the internet age.

Had the footage of George Floyd’s murder not gone viral online, he would have become just another unnamed Black man killed by the US police, instead of the face of a turning point in racial progression.

Without social media, Trans rights would still be a fringe issue instead of a thoroughly discussed element of public discourse.

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Today TikTokers in Ukraine are using their platforms to give us an insight into the reality for citizens who do not know if or when they will be safe to return to their homes.  

In this regard, social media is crucial. There are those for whom these personal recordings of the war offer an alternative addition to professional news coverage.

For those who do not engage with traditional news sources at all, this is a more accessible means of gaining updates and information.

My concern with this is not so much the online spreading of fake news – whilst this is undeniably a risk when gaining information from an unverified news source, it is not a risk unique to the internet.

One need only turn on Fox News or GB News (which I believe is still being aired at the time of writing, but frankly who cares?) to view some sketchy reporting with some less than full-proof ‘facts’.

We should all be exercising caution before believing news, regardless of whether it is from a newspaper, a news network or a TikToker. 

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The frustration I do, however, bear with social media use surrounding critical times is the vanity attached to posting empty messages of support in order to gain likes and engagement.

Flooding my feed were hundreds of graphics about ‘manifesting positivity for Ukraine’ accompanied by photos of influencers lighting candles on their beautifully adorned bedside tables with captions like “This is for Ukraine”.

One of the worst I saw was a woman, around my age, posing in front of a vibrantly bright Poké Bowl and Matcha Latte, telling her followers “Crying for Ukraine today”. Are you? Because it looks, to me, a bit more like mining for likes. 

I do not underestimate the power of goodwill – neither do I wish to disparage those who helplessly feel only able to send their hopes and love.

But at a time where the human suffering is so immense, I find it inherently inappropriate to use Ukraine’s tragedy as a caption for aesthetic selfies and outfit shots. The war is a humanitarian crisis, not an Insta trend to jump on for engagement.  

I fear that my generation and those younger rely so heavily on the dopamine hit of a ‘like’ or ‘share’, that at times like these we can fall into the trap of posting distastefully for the sake of online validation.

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We are often too concerned with being seen on our grids to be doing the right thing, instead of actually going out and making a difference.  

That is not to say that some are not taking positive action. Photos and footage posted by volunteers of themselves gathering donated goods to be shipped to refugees are inspiring others to seek ways in which they too can be a part of the aid effort.

There are infographics sharing links to donation sites, encouraging us to contribute financially if we can.

That, to me, is what real influencing looks like. It does not need to be perfectly manicured with a carefully picked colour palette – it needs to be authentic, heartfelt and genuine.  

Mel Owen is a presenter, political commentator and campaigner for racial equality. She is the creator of the popular Welsh podcast, Mel, Mel, Jal.

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