Let Me Tell You About Hashtag Activism, Okay?


Many of us are familiar with that one individual who constantly tweets, and posts articles on Facebook about the Patriarchy, and oppression, and all those other buzzwords you learn about in an intro to gender studies course. What has recently caught my attention is the prominence of the online social justice community, and the growing number of #HashtagActivist.

Twitter has been the go to social media outlet for individuals to communicate with one another. Twitter’s mission is “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” It currently has 241 million active users, and 500 million tweets are sent per day. It gives anyone with internet access a platform.

Mother Jones recently published an article about the various countries that have banned Twitter, Facebook, and/or Youtube. Many of the governments that choose to block these social media sites do so in times of political turmoil, and when there’s upcoming elections. During the Arab Spring, Twitter became a key tool that helped galvanize protesters, as well as update people around the world about what was happening. Twitter was shut down by several governments surrounding the region, including Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia. In this instance Twitter was an incredibly effective, and simple way of reaching out to the world to a point that governments actually felt threatened by its existence.

Fast forward to 2014 when just a few days ago #CancelColbert (a campaign started by Suey Park, who also started the #NotYourAsianSidekick discussion) became the top trending hashtag on Twitter, or a few weeks ago when Sheryl Sandberg’s #BanBossy campaign launched. And let’s not forget the overnight phenomenon of #Kony2012. Writing a 140 character long tweet about why a satirical joke by Colbert is racist, or why we need to stop using the word “bossy” to describe women isn’t activism. It detracts from the real issues. The conversation about how blatantly racist the name Washington Redskins is now a conversation about an out-of-context Colbert joke. Adding a hashtag to the end of one of your tweets means you’re aware of a social issue, but it’s akin to changing your Facebook profile photo to a picture of your favorite color in protest of child abuse.

In a study of “The Structure of Online Activism” three sociologist monitored the Save Darfur campaign from May 2007 to January 2010, and revealed that of the one million Facebook members that “joined” the Darfur campaign the members had only collectively donated ninety thousand dollars. Be honest, did you know what was going on in Darfur? Do you know what’s going on there now?

Social activism is a wonderful thing, and I hope more people look into issues that they care about. If you want to empower women, instead of trying to ban a word (which, let’s be real, is virtually impossible) volunteer for Girls Write Now, or NOW. Take some action in the real world, and not just in the Twittersphere. We’ve seen Twitter used as a powerful political tool, but it can’t be the sole source of your activism. Meaningful discussion and awareness about social issues is important but just because you send out a dozen tweets a day about #racism and #oppression it does not mean you are changing the discourse about race and power structures. You want to #CancelColbert because you think he’s a racist? How about you fight to #CancelTheWashingtonRedskins first?

featured image – Twitter / @suey_park