In recent years, more Singaporean youths have taken to Instagram to promote social and environmental causes they believe in. The UrbanWire spoke to the founders behind three Instagram activism accounts. Find out why they started these passion projects:
@self_ally: Mental Health and Sexual Violence Awareness Advocate
When Ms Aleesha Khan was 14, she struggled with panic attacks, depression and had unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Due to these troubles, she struggled with school, and her academic performance suffered. She was subsequently diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and clinical depression.
“I couldn’t find a lot of information that was specific to what I was feeling. So I want to provide to people the information that I couldn’t find at that age,” she told The UrbanWire.
The 23-year-old Psychological Science graduate founded the Instagram page, @self_ally, in June 2018 with that intention in mind.
“I see all these therapists and professionals online who are condensing really important tools and information that the public can use on themselves and learn from – I think that’s pure magic and exactly what I want to be doing.”
The name, @self_ally, is not only an endearing reference to her nickname “Ally” but was also inspired by her takeaway from therapies.
“When you go to therapy and get support – yes, it’s very much about helping you, but it’s also about teaching you how to help yourself,” Ms Khan elaborates. “I think loving and respecting yourself is not something that is guaranteed, it’s something you have to work on and that’s the message [of the page].”
Ms Khan has learnt throughout the years how to lead an empowering and fulfilling life with her conditions, and wishes to teach others how to do the same.
Although the social activism page has an uplifting objective, she has received backlash for voicing out some of her opinions.
One example is how a few men, via direct messaging on the platform, threatened to report her account to the police because she expressed how she believes and supports victims of sexual violence.
“[This] makes me think of other accounts with way more followers, because I can’t imagine what it must be like for them, because I know that they must be receiving a lot more hate,” Ms Khan says.
Such instances of negativity and aggression can impact her mental health, so she has resolved to immediately block users that send such messages.
Ms Khan says: “For the most part, bringing awareness to vulnerable groups is always, always helpful. The only way I can see it having negative impacts is misinformation.”
Instagram can be rife with misinformation when it comes to mental health tips. One example she cited was the use of aggressive language and overtly strong directives on certain posts such as: “If you don’t do these seven things before bed, you’re not practising self-care.”
Ms Khan urges individuals to only consume information that will positively influence them and to conduct their own research as well.
The advice ultimately circles back to her page’s goal. “A lot of us are conditioned not to protect ourselves and take care of ourselves. I just wanted to provide a space where I could give people tools and just support them in supporting themselves.”
@theweirdandwild: Environmental and Climate Change Advocate
Learning about mass deforestation and wildfires during Qi Yun’s childhood was what sparked her lifelong interest in environmental issues.
In late 2018, the 23-year-old National University Singapore (NUS) Environmental Studies graduate decided to start @theweirdandwild account on Instagram.
She was mainly motivated by her university’s annual welfare pack distribution: “It’s just this paperback full of random things that sponsors give [NUS]. It’s so much waste – there were sanitary pads and they were given to guys who had no idea what to do with them.”
Many flocked to her to ask for advice on what to do with the non-applicable or unused items they received, so she decided to create an infographic – the first of the many she would produce for her page.
Her account has since evolved from solely being a guide for sustainable living to an educational platform that informs the masses on a wider range of environmental issues.
Ms Woo says: “The Instagram algorithm requires constant posting to remain relevant on different people’s pages – it’s super exhausting and it’s not sustainable for one person to be doing this all the time.”
So, she tries to remind herself: “Whatever I’m doing is for a good purpose, but if I run out of steam, so be it.”
Ms Woo is continually looking for help with her page, especially in the area of research. However, she is currently focusing more of such efforts towards another social activism page, titled @climatecommons.
The new account requires more attention as it’s still being developed by herself and other team members. She hopes that it will act as a more in-depth supplement for @theweirdandwild.
On what it takes to be a climate activist, “I think it takes a lot of support, self-conviction, and access to resources,” Ms Woo explains. “Everyone has access to different resources, so, I understand that I have a lot of privilege to be running this account, that not many people may be able to.”
She adds: “It doesn’t mean you’re not an activist if you’re not vocal. Having some level of belief and trust in a cause – that counts.”
@lepakconversations: Racial Justice and Equity Advocate
Nur and Anna are the dynamic duo behind the page @lepakconversations. The two 22-year-olds prefer not to disclose their real names.
On why they created the page, Nur explains: “We realised that the narrative surrounding the Malay-Muslim Community has been framed a certain way, such as the progress of the community. So, we wanted to reclaim this narrative and tell it from the perspective of the Malay-Muslim Community itself.”
This goal also gave rise to the name @lepakconversations. Anna shares: “The word ‘lepak’ has negative connotations of unproductive and wasting time, which plays into the stereotype that Malays are lazy.”
“By using the name @lepakconversations, we want to redefine the word ‘lepak’ not only as people hanging out, but also having respectful, constructive, conversations about the Malay-Muslim community.”
The pair was motivated to kickstart the page in the lead up to last year’s general election because of The Tudung Issue – a topic that has gained traction among their followers.
Photos Credit: @lepakconversations
Nur explains: “Around that time, there was a new petition that [campaigned] to allow for frontline workers to don their Tudung.”
The Tudung issue is a matter in which the subjects of race and gender converge. Anna elaborates that they try to take on a more intersectional view: “… some pages only solely focus on gender or racial issues, we try to address the overlap between such issues.”
Another aspect that sets their page apart from others is how closely they hold inclusivity to their hearts.
To deepen the discourse on topics they bring up on their page, they look beyond speaking with their followers to enacting discussions with key community leaders.
Anna mentions: “We’re actually in the midst of planning our first focus group that includes diverse participants for varying opinions and to ensure that we represent many perspectives.”
Edited by: Anmi Chou Shigeta
Proofread by: Winny Wint Htae