How Useful is Hashtag Activism?

This week I will be discussing whether or not hashtag activism is highly effective or simply lazy. First, hashtag activism is defined as: an act of fighting for or supporting a cause that people are advocating through social media such as, Facebook, Twitter, and any other networking platforms (Techopedia). This type of activism does not require individuals to do anything more then share or ‘like’ post or retweet tweets. I myself believe this form of activism is very effective, while others feel it is unhelpful and just a way to feel as though you are helping with the issue. In Brun’s (2014) film he uses the term macro groups to explain large groups that are brought together by hashtags, in which anyone who searches a hashtag can see the tweet whether or not they are following the individual. Once these hashtag have spread around a large group of people it is now like a massive public conversation bringing people together to speak about an issue. This is a highly effective way to spread awareness and make your voice count as a society.

Although, the definition of hashtag activism claims that individuals do not intend to do anything more about the issue, it does not mean that this form of activism is useless. Once a hashtag has been used by various users the hashtag becomes ‘trending’, which means it is popular and gone viral. On the side of each users twitter feed ‘trending’ hashtags are listed, which makes it easier for the hashtag to be recognized. Here are some examples proving hashtag activism is effective:

In April more than 300 girls were kidnapped from their school dormitory in Nigeria and the next day a group of African American women on Twitter wondered what the coverage would look like if this happened to hundreds of white girls (Olin, 2014). After a week, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was started in Nigeria by parents and activist who did not believe their president when he claimed he was taking action, so they began to raise awareness in attempt to pressure the government into doing more (Olin, 2014). The hashtag had worked, it went from 10,000 mentions a day to 100,000 or 200,000 a day. (Olin, 2014). Some may say it is only a hashtag and will not deliver the girls back to their parents, but it is a start and the world is now talking about 276 stolen girls rather then being unaware of the issue. Even President Barack Obama’s wife posted a tweet! Without hashtag activism this case would not have been recognized by anyone, but only those who caught the 6 o’clock news.

A similar example is the two hashtags that were created after the May 23rd stabbing and shooting rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara. The hashtag #YesAllWomen spread across twitter in attempt to raise awareness about harassment and violence against women, which I also saw on Facebook. The second hashtag was #NotOneMore, which was created to spread awareness about gun violence. Thousands of people shared both hashtags voicing their opinions with regards to women harassment and gun violence, which were two issues relating to this tragedy (Rosman, 2014).

So, is hashtag activism useful? Yes, it absolutely is, it is highly effective as it rapidly spreads to promote change, which can happen if thousands of people across the world are involved. Murthy (2012) calls this a publicly driven culture. As Murthy (2012) claims, Twitter, like any new communication technology shapes our world because we are capable of sharing our lives publicly. Twitter allows users to quickly share information and opinions to each other, whether you are followers or not, which occurs through hashtags. Also, tweets can contain hyperlinks to full-length newspaper articles or videos allowing users to share more then 140 characters. There may be some constraints to this form of activism such as, some people may not have equal access to the internet, in which they are not aware of the issue or others may only tweet to ‘fit in’ rather then understand the issue. Over all, enough people have access to twitter and regardless if people have actually done their research it is more important that the issue gains awareness. Therefore, hashtag activism does have real world consequences because as you have seen, a story and a cause in four words can easily go viral and has the capability to promote change. With a simple tweet people can get the world talking.

 

Bruns, Axel. Layers of Communication on Twitter. 25 April 2014.http://mappingonlinepublics.net/2014/04/25/layers-of-communication-on-twitter/

Murthy, D. “Twitter: Microphone for the masses?” Media, Culture & Society 33.5 (2011): 779–89.

Olin, L. (2014, May 9). #BringBackOurGirls: Hashtag Activism Is Cheap–And That’s a Good Thing. Time.

Rosman, K. (2014, June 17). Hashtag Activism: How #NotOneMore Caught Fire Online. Digits.

 

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