Who knew this “hashtag activism” was such a controversial and debatable topic? Not I and it looks to me that people can take things a little too seriously. Google defines the term activism as “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” Now we add “hashtag” to this activism definition and what we get is the ability to campaign for certain changes through the use of these online specific topics which are grouped together by preceding a term or phrase with a pound sign (#).
I had known about hashtags prior to this course and never saw them in a negative sense. That is unless someone over uses them through social media, which has now become humorous to me. Caitlin Dewey quoted The Urban Dictionary as part of her writing in the Washington Post with its definition of “hashtag activism” as follows; “the kind of activism undertaken when you “do something” about a problem by tweeting or posting links to Facebook, without any intent of ever actually doing something. Nothing more than a nonsense feel good gesture so that one can say they “did something about” whatever trendy cause they’re pretending to care about. Usually only lasts a week or two before the cause is completely forgotten (i.e. it stops being cool to forward/retweet on the subject).” We have learned previously about participation in this immergence of new media and I would say that by choosing to repost or add your own commentary to these hashtags that support different causes makes you an active participant. Therefore you become an active member in campaigning towards change, whatever it may be, which the definition of activism depicts. So how is standing in front of a building or in the streets with signs campaigning for change any different or less active than sharing that sign or campaign message with several hundred people via the web? Besides the physicality of it, I don’t see the difference. In a protest video of #BringBackOurGirls posted in Dewey’s article, a gentlemen says the following “We want them [the government] to try. We want them to reach out. We want them to show effort and show that they care.” In regards to protesting and sharing the message to people of the world, how important is the means of spreading this awareness? As long as the message gets out there who cares about the reason why people repost it.
With any action there are consequences that come along side also. In the instance of hashtag activism I see far more positive consequences than negative. For instance by using hashtags via social media such as Twitter or Facebook, Levinson points out that a tweet can reach millions of people within seconds of someone posting. This becomes a simple effortless broadcast of information which is uninhibited by the agendas of other mass media outlets, such as the news (Levinson, 2013). Hashtag activism is much cheaper for both the parties advocating for the cause and also for any police or service needed to keep a physical rally controlled. That brings me to my next point that activism through the use of hashtags is far less violent or brutal than physical protests. I was in Montreal during the 2012 student protests and was amazed by the amount of police presence all over the downtown and university areas. Not only was this a large expense in tax payer dollars but the police used physical force and means to control this protest resulting in injuries.
From personal experience through the #NoMakeUpSelfie I saw a drawback to this hashtag activism. It boils down to how someone is using a hashtag for a cause and whether they have knowledge of the validity or not. A friend of mine had seen these selfies of girls with no makeup. Along the way the cause was not being portrayed correctly and the meaning was lost, which then lead to my friend posting a “No makeup selfie” of him with a rather ignorant comment. This obviously sparked some comments from his female friends who knew the cause and who were personally affected in some way from breast cancer. This is a prime example of how sometimes these causes can get lost in translation when people repost just to jump on the “hashtag activism” bandwagon. In everything we do we must remember to stop, think and be ready to stand up for our choices.