Solidarity, Privilege & Social Media

Payal Parekh
4 min readMar 18, 2024


Solidarity written in red script on brown paper, with a red fist held up in the sky

The numerous crises we are facing simultaneously from climate to cost of living, from war to migration, are putting us on the brink of a polycrisis — the interaction of multiple crises with compounding and cascading impacts beyond each individual crisis. Effective solidarity is needed now more than ever, but what does it look like? In the past “actions speak louder than words,” seemed to be the motto, but the face of solidarity has been altered due to social media.

Rather than the effectiveness of social media posts to affect change, how many times one has posted a message demanding ceasefire now and calling out Israel for committing genocide has become the new benchmark. Personal branding trumps making a difference. Even if you were at a demo, it only counts if you posted a picture of yourself and ideally, wearing a keffiyeh. Naomi Klein writes in her latest book about one of her students, who returns to social media (which she left to protect her mental health) to make posts about Black Lives Matters to prove she’s not racist, despite having taken part in marches and actions.

Whether you have posted on social media or not is increasingly being used to test whether one has “outed” themselves on a key issue using the logic that silence = complicity. As an activist living in sleepy Switzerland without ties to any institution and not much of a public profile, the consequences for me beyond lost contracts is minimal. For others they might lose their job, reputation or even worse, face state repression, such as people who are citizens of totalitarian states like Russia or Azerbaijan. The rules of discourse on social media, in particular X (formerly Twitter), doesn’t allow for grey tones; you’re either in or out.

Many from the global South, who have precarious situations have taken a stand on Gaza. They have lost funding or been forced to resign as this article on German funding demonstrates, but only share their story anonymously or among trusted circles, because of fear of further retribution. On the other hand professors and journalists in the global North can say publicly that they have been uninvited or suspended, receiving praise for their actions and even fundraisers are organised for them. They can even brag about their trolls. Due to their privilege they receive more solidarity and can give more public solidarity. We should continue to support those who can add their name to their actions to the wider public, but we shouldn’t assume that others haven’t made sacrifices. And honestly, this is about Palestinians, not about privileged people displaying their solidarity. That tends to get lost on social media, which has reframed solidarity into heroic acts by individuals.

How do public statements square up with acts that people take? What happens when a professor constantly posts about racism and diversity, but isn’t willing to make efforts to diversify their research group? Or when someone publicly supports workers rights in the tech industry, but undermines a staff member of colour being mistreated by management on a board they sit on? Statements are meaningless if they are not backed by actions.

There could also be valid reasons why some individuals or groups of people aren’t speaking out on an issue. As my geometry teacher said in school, when we ASS U ME, it makes an ass out of you and me. Do we really know the reasons why someone is speaking out publicly or not? A German friend confided that she does agree that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is not acceptable, but as the granddaughter of a Nazi collaborator she feels that she cannot speak out. I don’t agree with her, but to some extent I understand; the pushback would likely be considerable within the context of Germany. I was also recently asked to call out a colleague who has publicly said he supports a cease fire, but some feel he hasn’t been vocal enough and his position is not strong enough; well it turns out that he has some connections with the US administration and is trying to influence them through back channels. His work behind the scenes has much more potential to have an impact than posting constantly on social media.

The question of impact is essential — what is needed, when and by whom? Of course social media is needed and can have an impact — — it is relatively easy to do, most people can participate, it can reach people across physical borders and can shape and shift public opinion, which can then influence decision makers. But we also need people organising their schools, places of worship and associations to speak out in favour of a cease fire, mass actions, direct action and bureaucrats and UN officials doing backroom diplomacy. In the best case scenarios, the various tactics result in a synergistic tapestry and forces action by decision makers.

Social media also has the potential to convert offline action into online action; it is much more efficient in reaching people than a phone tree or hanging posters around town with a clear message as to why people should take collective action. People power is the competitive advantage of ordinary people. But in order to do this, the goal of posts has to be about urging action, not personal branding and turning passive solidarity into active solidarity to reach its full effect.



Payal Parekh

climate scientist turned activist; Swiss, Indian, American immigrant.