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#HashtagActivism: Is It Really Activism?

By Michal Olesiak in Opinion & Politics


Does social media activism really make a difference?

#Kony2012. #BringBackOurGirls. #BlackLivesMatter. Hashtag Activism has developed into a global phenomenon only recently, but has already created an effect around the world. The phrase “Hashtag Activism” usually refers to the use of Twitter, or any social media platform, to voice activism. The term was first used by The Guardian in context to the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. This form of activism is either preached as a cooperative, global will of the people, or criticized as people expressing views blindly before moving on to the next injustice (without properly dealing with the first).

Hashtag Activism isn’t a perfect form of activism, but no form really is. People using Hashtag Activism limit themselves through sharing problems without possibly knowing or caring about the issue, or simply being limited to 140 characters on Twitter to voice themselves. The other main problem with Hashtag Activism is that it has the potential to create a false sense of accomplishment. People may think that just by sharing, retweeting, and liking on social media instead of volunteering, marching against the injustice, or standing up physically for what they believe, actually does enough to solve the problem.

Although Hashtag Activism faces such criticisms, its benefit outweighs them all. Almost every aspect of the world has been transferred online, from how business is conducted, to how we learn; activism is no different. The classic picketing line marching down the sidewalk chanting in front of what you’re protesting is still a common of form of voicing opinion, but it isn’t the main way anymore. With a constantly growing membership, and accessibility to millions of people, hashtag activism is the smart way to organize, gather support, and spread the message. For example, #BringBackOurGirls was started by Michelle Obama in response to the kidnappings of schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Chibok, Nigeria. In a matter of days, practically everyone knew about it, and the original tweet had 2 million retweets.

When Fairview students protested the CMAS test last year, they used both social media and physical activism to make their voices heard. They both picketed outside the school, and also made a informational video saying why they opposed the test, according to the Colorado Public Radio. The movement was a success; only nine seniors took the test out of a class of 538, according to CPR, with huge supporter turnout and attention from national media outlets like the Huffington Post and even MTV.

It is inevitable that some people will share something without knowing or really getting involved in the movement. But when people make picket signs or march for a movement, it is likely that not all of them knew everything about the movement either, or really got involved with the message. The only reason Hashtag Activism gets a worse reputation than other forms of activism is because social media is where the masses are; more people can use Twitter, and more people see Twitter, which makes it inevitable that more people will share and join things without knowing about the movement.

The beauty in Hashtag Activism is that more people can participate in it, more people can spread their message, and more people can bring about change in the world.

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