#BringBackOurGirls. #Kony2012. #YesAllWomen.
A fairly new movement has erupted on social media, and it’s called hashtag activism. The point of the hashtags are to draw attention to a problem going on in the world in a quick and searchable way, with the hopes that it will spread and people will take action. But is change occurring?
Hashtag activism started with the Occupy movement in 2011. #OccupyWallStreet started as an online campaign and later moved into a number of in-person protests around the world. Many other hashtags emerged after the Occupy movement with varying results. On a recent PBS Twitter chat, followers talked about the good and bad points of hashtag activism. Hashtags can raise awareness and communicate an idea very quickly, but more often than not, they don’t seem to change anything. Is hashtag activism mostly “slacktivism”?
Ferguson is a recent example of an issue that spawned a lot of hashtags. However, when the shooting took place in August, the Ice Bucket Challenge was a more popular topic. The issue wasn’t completely resurrected until the grand jury hearing of Darren Wilson was over. If there had been more conversation before the trial, it’s easy to wonder if things might have been different in November.
So, hashtag activism doesn’t always spur change, but hacktivism, especially involving Anonymous, seems to change a lot. Anonymous has protested and hacked the Westboro Baptist Church website, put a child pornography site out of business, and helped link the Chinese military to U.S. cyber attacks, among other things.
Why does hacktivism seem to create more action than hashtag activism? Whether it’s the anonymity, skill set, personalities involved in the group, or a combination of the three, Anonymous is converting online outrage to protests in the streets. Maybe it’s something about the inconspicuous nature of Anonymous’ philanthropy - most hackers will never take credit out of fear of legal backlash, so it can be argued that they’re doing it more out of desire for change than for personal recognition. Whatever the case, hashtag activists should take some pages from hacktivist groups if they want their protests to move to “IRL” settings.