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How Black-And-White Photo Challenge On Instagram Went Viral

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Waves of activity can pop up in social media, and sometimes it's hard to know what to make of them. If you glance at your Facebook or Instagram feeds right now, you will see the Challenge Accepted hashtag next to millions of black-and-white selfies of women because over the past few days, there's been this viral trend to nominate women you know to post a photo with the hashtag as a way to promote female empowerment. Many of the posts even include the #WomenSupportingWomen.

Taylor Lorenz is a culture reporter for The New York Times, and she wrote a piece critiquing this challenge. She joins us now to explain.

Welcome.

TAYLOR LORENZ: Hi. Thanks having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. So tell us - what is so wrong about these Challenge Accepted selfies?

LORENZ: Well, I wouldn't say wrong as much as misguided. You know, people have been posting these kind of Challenge Accepted selfies supposedly raising awareness around a lot of causes - you know, posting black-and-white selfies for cancer awareness, to spread positivity or now women's empowerment. And ultimately these selfies just don't really further any of the causes that they purport to support, and they have this sort of veneer of activism without actually, you know, encouraging people to do anything.

CHANG: Well, what do you mean by that, that they don't actually do any work to support these causes?

LORENZ: Well, you know, for instance, let's talk about, you know, just raising awareness. I mean, just raising awareness of women and - you know, through this sort of, like, invite-only campaign is just - what is the ultimate goal of that? You know, it's not getting people to sign a petition. It's not, you know, forcing employers to hire more women. It's not really accomplishing anything other than encouraging women to post photos of themselves, which, you know, in itself doesn't really do anything. And by the way, these are women with huge platforms. You know, a lot of the people that spread this message are big-time influencers and celebrities. They don't have problems with visibility, you know? They post photos of themselves every day.

CHANG: Yeah. I mean, I'm going to be honest with you. Some of these photos are, like, glamour shots. I don't totally get this trend either. Twitter, you can come at me. But let me ask you this - obviously the popularity of this right now, it does show that millions of women enjoy participating in it. So does mutual appreciation among women need to, like, take a specific stance on a specific issue in order to be valid?

LORENZ: No. But it's - I mean, in this instance, it was framed as taking a stance on an issue. You know, a lot of people were posting about feminism and women's empowerment and sort of feminist stuff in these - you know, in the captions of these posts. But they weren't doing anything. I think if the whole challenge was framed a little bit more neutrally it wouldn't have been an issue. And by the way, you're saying a lot of women felt great about this. You know, a lot of women felt left out. A lot of women felt social pressure to kind of post. A lot of people don't like to post photos of themselves on their Instagram or feel that pressure. But, you know, these types of campaigns sort of make them. It's basically modern-day chainmail.

CHANG: I mean, you noted that there was another #ChallengeAccepted for cancer awareness. I know that recently women in Turkey were sharing black-and-white photos of themselves to raise awareness about Turkish femicide. I'm curious, is the U.S. challenge and the one in Turkey connected somehow?

LORENZ: No. So the U.S. challenge, which was previously - it has been around - this challenge that's in the U.S. has been around in the U.S. since 2016. The #ChallengeAccepted has been used to promote many different causes, including cancer awareness, positivity. But this sort of recent resurgence spread in Brazil. And so it sort of bled over from Brazil to the U.S. But what the women in Turkey are doing is incredible.

CHANG: Taylor Lorenz is a culture reporter for The New York Times.

Thank you so much.

LORENZ: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TREMOR'S "CARACOL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.