Hashtags are driving movements and social media is supplying the platform. In this day of modern technology, movements have hashtags as a driver for their message and followers. The power of the hashtag is something that will be a part of history because they are used to fuel social movements, drive marketing strategies and invoke humor. Anything can become a widespread movement in a matter of minutes because of the accessibility and outreach capability of hashtags.
How people protest has changed over the decades with successful waves of new media: radio, television and now digital media. Hashtags have become the new voice behind important movements that have seen wide international coverage such as, #WhyIDidn’tReport, #NeverAgain, #Metoo, #BlackLivesMatter, #TakeAKnee and #LoveIsLove. These are just few of the many examples of hashtags used to make a point and challenge a statement by giving voices to thousands of victims of assaults, gender inequality, sexism, harassment, racism and more.
According to The New Times, hashtag activism is a term coined by media outlets which refers to hashtags for online activism. “The concept of tagging social media groups or topics with a hashtag is credited to one man, Chris Messina, who came up with the idea in 2007.” By 2009, the idea caught on and Twitter added the option for users to search for hashtags. Shortly after Instagram and Facebook followed suit. Hashtag activism is the act of fighting for or supporting a cause that people are advocating through social media like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other networking websites. This is the kind of activism that does not require any action from the person other than sharing or “liking” a post or “retweeting” tweets on Twitter.
Hashtag activism is also known as social activism. Activists have looked to social media as an easy way to kick start their protests and get an issue spread around. Since the internet has the ability to quickly share messages anywhere around the world, social media has been utilized to have social movements go viral. With the changing times, activism continues to adapt to new forms of technology.
There is some controversy surrounding hashtag movements. According to The Student Newspaper, “This form of hashtag activism has been heavily criticized and faced accusations of laziness and narcissism, suggesting that people cannot be bothered to take the time to attend protests and simply get involved on Twitter to feel better about themselves, rather than making the effort to ensure change is made. This raise concerns as to whether or not hashtag activism is making real change or whether it is simply blowing smoke around these important issues, with few substantiated changes in the real world, particularly with regards to government policy.” Critics believe it is a way of allowing people to participate andfeel good about themselves even if they haven’t put in any real effort.
Sarah Palin has voiced her opinion on why she doesn’t agree with hashtag movements. According to Law Street, Palin spoke on the regards to the abductions done by Boko Haram and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and said, “Diplomacy via Twitter is the lazy, ineffectual, naïve, and insulting way for America’s leaders to deal with major national and international issues… If you’re going to get involved anyway, Mr. President, learn to understand this and believe it, then announce it: Victory is only brought to you ‘courtesy of the red, white and blue.’ It’s certainly not won by your mere ‘unfriending’ the bad guys on Facebook. Leading from behind is not the American way.”
While it can be true that some of these movements are small they still can receive a widespread of coverage and can result in not much change, it has allowed for the outlet for those victims to have a voice and a new form of “healing” that could help more than others could understand. There is healing and comfort in speaking out and knowing you are not alone in your experience. Raising awareness online has too many limitations to fully engulf a movement alone but is a great start to igniting the flame.
People will still do terrible things, and hashtags won’t change that or solve everything wrong in the world, but by giving those the courage to keep going in a way that has never been possible before is an important point to be made. This is the first-time survivors have been able to feel comfort and given the opportunity to support each other on such a large scale.
Hashtags have not only become the voice for many but also have accomplished much more. According to Psychology Today, “In addition to the historical day of marching, they have registered people to vote, organized and attended town halls, and forced the corporate media to contend with a different narrative regarding access to guns in our nation and the safety of all Americans.” It continues to explain that the result may not change policies, but that hashtag activism is a great way to get involved in social justice issues, but it should not be the endpoint to social activism.
Celebrities can have a major impact on kicking off a movement by using a hashtag. By using their platform, they can ignite a movement in a matter of minutes. For example, the #MeToo and #HeForShe were driven by just that. According to UnWomen, “Over a decade before the hashtag was trending, Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement. A survivor of sexual violence herself, Burke wanted to create a platform for girls with similar experiences to connect with one another in a safe space. Way before tweets sparked global conversations, she launched her campaign online on MySpace. The magnitude of participation revealed the hunger for solidarity among survivors, and so, the movement grew. It wasn’t until renowned actress Alyssa Milano tweeted with #MeToo, asking sexual abuse victims to share their stories, that the campaign burst into the global spotlight.”
Like how Alyssa Milano ignited the #MeToo movement, Emma Watson launched a successful campaign with the hashtag movement. She gave a #heforshe speech and asked for men to support the women on a campaign she was launching about gender equality. With reaching out for help specifically, she was able to reach millions around the world and raise awareness to the issue she was targeting. This is making her speech, that was given years ago, still important and hold relevance.
Social media is what our society lives and breathes every day. For most of us, it is the first thing we do when we wake up and the last thing we look at before bed.We are the generation of technology, a generation of hashtags. These movements are bringing a gradual change to society by starting conversation, and that alone is a step in a positive direction.
Social media is one of the most powerful forms of activism today. Social media gives people the power to call out injustices, inaccuracies and misrepresentations and brings about better understanding of other cultures and people. By organizing, creating and supporting hashtag campaigns, people from all over the world can get involved in important conversations. If we cannot connect with each other in ways we have never been able to before, to support something bigger than all of us, then are we really utilizing our resources? We are creating and doing something strong as society, even if it is just starting a conversation.