Blackout Tuesday: What do Instagram black squares mean – and how can you take part?

Posts are intended to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the US

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 02 June 2020 09:25 BST
Police fire tear gas at protesters near the White House

Instagram is filling up with black squares in the latest movement to protest against racial inequality and police brutality.

The simple posts are intended as a way of expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the US after the death of George Floyd.

To join in, users simply post a black square onto their feed – and then commit not to post over the rest of the day. Instructions on how to do so can be found below.

The movement is part of an event called "Blackout Tuesday" that is intended to allow people to consider how best to fight against racism.

What is Blackout Tuesday?

The movement began in the music industry, with a number of leading names committing to commemorate the day by refraining from posting on social media or releasing new content. Instead, the day would be used as a "day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community" and was organised under the hashtag "#THESHOWMUSTBEPAUSED".

But it has quickly spread across the rest of the internet too, with both major brands and individuals committing to be part of the blackout and use the time to fight against racism.

To show support, all a user needs to do is post a black square onto their feed. People have also been posting messages of solidarity under those images – though the prevalence of the use of the Black Lives Matter hashtag has led some to point out that the protest could actually be obscuring important information.

People are then encouraged to use the rest of their day to give their support to the ongoing protests in other ways, as well as allowing their feed to go quiet so that posts from people of colour can more easily be seen.

In that respect, the event is similar to the #AmplifyMelanatedVoicesChallenge in which white people have been asked to post less on their pages and instead read, re-share and support the posts of people of colour.

Why has the movement drawn criticism?

Many users have pointed out that the blackout pictures are currently filling up feeds – which could be somewhat counterproductive, given that the aim of the day is to focus on black creators and the information that they have to share.

That problem is compounded when the photos are shared with the Black Lives Matter hashtag. That has quickly been overtaken by the blacked out images, meaning that anyone scrolling through it will find it hard to find actual images or normal posts.

Instead, users have been urged to post the images without any hashtags, or to use the specific #BlackoutTuesday one.

How to post a black square on Instagram

If you want to support the event, actually getting hold of a black square of your own to post is more difficult than it might initially seem.

One way is simply to take a screengrab of another person's post that uses the black image, but that is likely to introduce artefacts and the various bits around the image will need to be cut away. Another is to search Google for a plain black image, though actually finding one that does not need cropping or altering in any way is more difficult than it might first appear.

It is also relatively easy to make a black square in any basic image editing software, such as Pixlr or even Microsoft Paint. Saving such an image into your camera roll will allow you to post it, and since the photo can be made very large it will be easy to crop it to fit into Instagram's usual size.

But perhaps the simplest way is also a little unusual. Open up the Instagram app, click to add a new post, choose "Photo" to use your camera, and then lay your phone down on a flat surface – that should allow you to take a plain black image, which conveniently will be properly sized for Instagram, already in the app and ready to go straight onto your feed.

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