#TechTuesday: Do Hashtags Equal Advocacy?

*sigh.* It’s been quite the August already, huh?

With everything that’s going on domestically and abroad, in politics and in entertainment, many people have taken to social media to express their opinions. But a common thread (or rather divide) that I’ve noticed is the argument whether or not hashtags alone hold enough weight to show your support for a particular cause. And personally, I think it truly depends on the individual behind the iPhone, tablet or computer screen.

Since Twitter’s inception in 2008, hashtags have served the purpose of aggregating online conversation. From watching The Oscars and other awards shows, to following political campaigns, Internet users have learned to used hashtags to expand conversation beyond 140 characters. But when it comes to “hashtag activism“, I think we all need to rethink our approach.

In the last few years, members of the online community banded together on so many issues, but is simply coming together online enough? Be honest with yourself: does a hashtag really encourage you to get up out of your seat and DO something about the cause that you are so passionate about online?

As a social media and communications professional, I’ve come to learn that hashtags are great at raising awareness. For example, if it weren’t for Twitter and Facebook, I wouldn’t have known what ALS is, or why people were pouring buckets of ice water over their heads. Now, does that mean I’m going to go out and do it myself? Of course not! But because of the power of social media, I am now AWARE of what Lou Gehrig’s disease is, and what the ALS Foundation is doing to teach people about their work.

Similarly, the tragic and senseless deaths of black youth like Trayvon Martin, Reneisha McBride and recently Michael Brown have fueled members of the online community (so eloquently known as ‘Black Twitter’) to start certain campaigns. With the #IfTheyShotMeDown campaign, users are posting contracting photos of themselves and asking which would the media use to best represent them. As I was scrolling through Instagram last night, I noticed someone demanding suggesting that one of my friends make their own collage. I won’t lie — that made me slightly uncomfortable reading that. And here’s why:  just as you can’t pressure someone to do something in real life, you can’t expect that they will do something because everyone else is doing it online. Trust me, my heart continues to ache for the families of these slain young people, and the communities in which they reside. I want us to not have to fear for our young black and brown boys and girls, and of course for law enforcement to serve and protect us as they’ve been trained to do. But at the same time, I can’t solely rely on social media to amplify my voice. Yes, it is a medium in which I can share my thoughts and feelings on a subject, but unless I make the personal choice to get into my community, join together with other activists and politicians and protest for change, my words on Twitter are simply just heightening the awareness of myself and others. And that’s my own personal opinion. 

When we’re inundated with so many issues and causes, discernment must come into play. The world of social media is so large and dense that it’s easy to get caught up in things (see: Kony 2012) without having a full understanding of what is going on. I’m not saying that certain movements online can’t and won’t incite change offline, I just think that it’s important that we have adequate information before we go sounding the alarm on any and everything that comes across out timelines. When choosing which causes to personally advocate for, we must be prepare to have people clap back at how we feel (because as we know, there are some people that  TROLL for a living on the Internet.)

As technology evolves, we will continue to learn a lot about the world from our dear friend the #hashtag — but it’s up to us personally if we are going to act upon the persona that we’ve build online.
Do you think that it’s possible for hashtags to serve as advocacy? Leave a comment below or send me a tweet!

4 thoughts on “#TechTuesday: Do Hashtags Equal Advocacy?

  1. NatashaJBenjamin says:

    Chas, I have been thinking about this for months and this post came at the perfect time. Working in social media, you understand the importance of a #hashtag and how far it can go. But in that same breathe, as someone who yearns to make changes in the community I find that we’ve resulted to computer activism more than ever. I think more than ever we’ve become caught up in partaking in a hashtag (i.e. #bringbackourgirls) before knowing the right steps to take action. There were so many photos circulating with #bringbackourgirls of a young girl who was not even Nigerian. At what moment do we ask ourself what are we doing this for?

    I more than ever want us to go beyond hashtags. It’s great to use social media to promote the action that will be taken like calling your local government or organizing a rally (i.e. Hoodies Up rallies for Trayvon Martin), but if we result in only a #hashtag to make a change we’re wrestling with things to remain the same in our respective communities.

    This has been resting on my mind forever, so I’ll keep ranting but this is the perfect post, Chas!

  2. ThinkBrownINK says:

    GREAT post. In my opinion, hash tag advocacy can be very efficient, especially when the goal is to spark action offline. For instance, in 2012, after years of advocating for people and causes through my work in communications, I faced a tragic point in life which physically made it impossible to be active in person. After becoming depressed about feeling virtually ineffective, I thought of an idea to mobilize people around causes online and decided to create a movement called #12monthsofservice. Within weeks we had dozens of people advocating for causes, recruiting volunteers and helping to Crowdfund for issues, and that’s what we still do today. I think online advocacy is important and can inspire those who have the time, money and resources (especially when the messenger doesn’t) to give.

  3. ThinkBrownINK says:

    GREAT post. In my opinion, hash tag advocacy can be very efficient, especially when the goal is to spark action offline. For instance, in 2012, after years of advocating for people and causes through my work in communications, I faced a tragic point in life which physically made it impossible to be active in person. After becoming depressed about feeling virtually ineffective, I thought of an idea to mobilize people around causes online and decided to create a movement called #12monthsofservice. Within weeks we had dozens of people advocating for causes, recruiting volunteers and helping to Crowdfund for issues, and that’s what we still do today. I think online advocacy is important and can inspire those who have the time, money and resources (especially when the messenger doesn’t) to give.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s