No, hashtags promote passivism, not activism
#BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #YesAllWomen, #Kony2012, #BringBackOurGirls and many more. What do all of these hashtags have in common? Each one has been used millions of times by internet users making commentary on current events.
Hashtag activism is the act of supporting a cause through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Unlike real life activism, hashtag activism does not require any real action.
Online activism can be as simple as changing your profile picture on Facebook to a flag or signing a change.org petition. Online activism has earned a bad rap, and it is easy to see why it is coined as “slacktivism”.
Is the internet fueling impactful change or breeding lazy activism? Is hashtag activism simply offering a way for people to feel like they’re taking part in a movement while they do nothing more than scroll through social media?
Supporters of hashtag activism believe it is an effective way to create tangible change for the greatest amount of people, while the critics believe that the results of these movements leave something to be desired.
Shonda Rhimes, producer of everyone’s favorite shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” feels that hashtag activism does not help the cause.
In her Dartmouth commencement speech in 2014, she stated: “Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter, but a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show.”
In 2014, a Digital Activism study conducted by Cone Communications reported 75 percent of Millennials use social media to discuss issues they care about, but how many of the hashtagged issues have been changed?
Washington Post reporter Adam Taylor wrote “Many of these social media campaigns have faced a similar problem to #Kony2012: Once you have the online support, how to use it for real world impact? It’s an important question, and if an answer could be found it may point to better things.”
Oded Marom, a political theorist at USC Dornsife believes that while the internet lowers the bar for what constitutes “activism,” it has the potential to create tangible change.
“In a way, what some call slacktivism can create a community of strangers who share a common commitment to a cause, mainly by lowering the cost in money, time and effort, of interaction and organization,” Marom said.
The breadth of the social reach the internet has is something powerful that can be used for good. The internet has made it easier than ever to organize and inform people around salient issues. The internet is not the end-all answer to political activism.
If all you do is tweet back and forth about how angry you are about a divisive issue, no change will actually occur. In its current state, the hashtag activism comes across as a sensational grab at attention.
The internet has the power to make the change that we seek, but that change will not be realized until the hashtag activism becomes real life activism as well.
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