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06/08/2020 The Communication Science magazine

Hashtag activism: what’s the point?

Now, hashtags have grown to be so popular and widely used that activism through hashtags has become a popular thing.


Let’s not deny it: we’re all aware of hashtag movements. The latest popular hashtag activist trending topic on Twitter: #deletefacebook, follows in a line of other popular hashtag movements like #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, #jesuischarlie and #kony2012. But, how influential are these hashtag movements really? Whether you think it’s funny to joke around about sexual harassment by saying ‘’hashtag me too’’ whenever somebody uses the words ‘’me too’’, or whether you take these movements seriously enough to join them: it’s still a mystery what the exact power of hashtag activism is.

Hashtag acitivism?
One might wonder what hashtag activism even is in the first place. Tech-nerd Chris Messina was the first one to even think of the use of hashtags. In a 2007 tweet, he raised the idea of using a hashtag –which he called pound- in tweets, to be able to be connected to groups of people chatting about the same subject on Twitter. Twitter rejected his idea at first, saying that it was something for tech-nerds only. Soon after, however, people started using hashtags. It got so popular that even other social media like Facebook and Google+ started using them.

Now, hashtags have grown to be so popular and widely used that activism through hashtags has become a popular thing. People trying to start citizen movements, or identifying with them, have tried to raise awareness for certain issues by using hashtags. Twitter followers can click on the hashtag to read more tweets on the subject, join the discussion and possibly the movement. People that are a part of the movement can find support in one another. Hashtag activism is often seen in the same line as internet activism, where one can simply like or share something they agree with on social media for their friends to see.

Easy activism: slacktivism
Critics will say that internet or hashtag activism is easy. A like or a share is only one or two clicks away on most social media. Critics wonder if the ‘difference’ our likes, shares and hashtags make, go further than raising awareness. Are people willing to come into action enough to accomplish real social change? Are people prepared to take on the role of activist in a more active form than just clicking on some buttons from behind a computer screen, otherwise known as ‘slacktivism’? But events in the recent past have already proven that hashtag movements, and the horrible PR they convey, can have a lot of influence on reality and practice.

What did these movements accomplish?
The power of awareness is often underrated, but awareness of maltreatments can sometimes be called bad publicity. And hardly any industry likes bad publicity. That was more than visible in the peak of the #metoo-movement: everyone that got accused, could nearly bet on losing every work contract they had running at the time. It’s almost as if the strong messages sent by certain companies caused a snowball effect.

These examples of accomplishments by hashtag movements prove that those movements definitely have a value and a purpose

Companies that wouldn’t take the same measures when someone under contract got accused, would have probably been under fire heavily. Especially because the whole #metoo movement started because of the fact that women hardly get taken seriously when complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace, and the companies they work at usually protect the sexual offenders instead of taking appropriate measures to protect women.

Raising money
Even a hashtag that didn’t necessarily call for social change, but that was called into life to raise money and awareness for muscle condition ALS, was widely successful. The #icebucketchallenge spread through social media like a rapid fire. Within no time, everyone was throwing buckets full of ice water all over themselves, donating money to ALS funds and uploading videos of their ice bucket challenge on social media. As always, the skeptics were skeptic. In the end, however, people raised over 100 million dollars for the ALS fund in just the first thirty days. And with that money,
they have already been able to do important research.

These examples of accomplishments by hashtag movements prove that those movements definitely have a value and a purpose. They might seem insignificant and it might annoy you that that one friend is always wearing his or her activism pants on Facebook, but isn’t in real life. However, these types of movements have accomplished a lot. So next time somebody says the words ‘’me too’’ and somebody else feels the need to need to say ‘’hashtag metoo’’ as a joke, call them out on their ignorance and incredibly bad sense of humour.

Cover: Surdumihail

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