The Hashtag Report Card: A Review Of Twitter Activism
The Hashtag Report Card: A Review Of Twitter Activism
It's the decade of amplified voices and social media is the megaphone of choice. As far as the news goes, we've seen a lot of negative stories. Ongoing wars, sexism, racism, death and destruction. There isn’t a lot to feel good about.
But out of the collective bad rose activist causes left and right. The hashtag undoubtedly drove that fight. There’s no way you escaped #BringBackOurGirls, #GamerGate or #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, among many others.
Social media strategist, Nicole Winchester, says there’s a reason why hashtags can be so magnetic.
“Those really resonate with people because they have stories and people want to talk about those stories...people can really relate to them,” she said.
While some disregard hashtag activism, Winchester finds value in retweets and shares. “I think it’s important not to just dismiss it as ‘slacktivism’. It allows people that don’t have other options to really get involved,” she said. “I‘ve learned more on Twitter about feminism and racism and being generally a good person than I’ve learned in university or anywhere else.”
Let’s take a look at some of the more influential activist hashtags of the past year and see if they lived up to the hype:
- Effectiveness: This was a culturally significant moment for survivors of sexual assault. Conceived by two friends, Antonia Zerbisias and Sue Montgomery, in response to the victim blaming seen during the Jian Ghomeshi case, a movement blossomed. For many participants, this was the first time they’d ever publicly mentioned their rape. The result was cathartic and informative and launched an international conversation.
- Engagement: At its peak on Oct.31, 2014, #BeenRapedNeverReported wastweeted 39 times per minute. During its first few days, it was tweeted 41,549 times. According to the Toronto Star, some 8 million women (and some men) from all over the world participated within the first 24 hours.
- Backlash: In my estimation, this hashtag activism was empowering. The few people I did see trying to steal the spotlight were quickly drowned out by messages of loving support for those coming forward.
- Overall Opinion: This hashtag changed my opinion about what constitutes “action.” Never before have I seen a measly 140 characters affect so many people in such a powerful way.
- Effectiveness: Maybe you’d heard of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral S, or “Lou Gehrig’s disease) before this hashtag and its accompanying videos went viral. But if you think back to the Ice Bucket Challenge’s heyday, do you remember anything about the disease? For me, this was a charity marketing campaign more than a form of activism.
- Engagement: This hashtag has been credited with increasing donations to the ALS Association by 3,500 per cent in one year—that’s more than $100-million. It appealed to both the competitive nature of humans and #FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Celebs got involved, videos were made, people were called out. It was viral marketing at its finest.
- Backlash: Many questioned whether participants in the hashtag and videos were actually donating, or just participating in a trend. The videos got tiresome after a while. While people were certainly more aware of the disease itself, there wasn’t a whole lot of information involved.
- Overall Opinion: Personally, I found this hashtag less about awareness and more about jumping on the bandwagon. On the other hand, it was extremely effective in terms of raising money and had a wide reach. But would I call it activism? Nah.
- Effectiveness: The tagline of the website spurred by the original hashtag is “Not a moment. A movement.” That speaks volumes about the nerve hit by #BlackLivesMatter after the police killings of Michael Brown, and later Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. It launched the hashtag #ICantBreathe, Eric Garner’s last words before being choked to death by a police officer). This hashtag has truly leapt off the screen into the streets and become a movement.
- Engagement: The hashtag first exploded on Twitter in early December, and during the past 30 days it has been tweeted about 1,035,950 times, according to social analytics site Topsy.com. Celebrities, especially musicians like Talib Kweli and Killer Mike, have been very outspoken in supporting this cause and its related hashtag, #Ferguson.
- Backlash: Most notably, Oprah Winfrey was quoted in an interview with People that the movement “lacked leadership.” For that, she ended up facing quite a backlash of her own.
- Overall Opinion: The evolution of this hashtag into a powerful movement is the epitome of activism. Twitter was the initial rallying point, but #BlackLivesMatter has produced international protests, community activism and a call for something better. Old school activism with a brand new twist.
The many successes of 2014 would indicate that hashtag activism will only be more popular in the coming years. And in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting just one week into 2015, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie emerged as both a sign of support for those lost and a emblem indicating that France—and the world—were standing strong.
The biggest change I’ve seen so far is the very quick dissection of this kind of viral support message. There are about as many “I am not Charlie” think-pieces as there are those in favour of the trend.
Let’s hope 2015 will be the year hashtag activism doesn’t just blindly sweep us up in its many causes, but provokes the kind of real, thoughtful dialogue that will truly change the world.