Hashtag activism is a term coined by media outlets which refers to the use of Twitter's hashtags for Internet activism. The term can also be used to refer to the act of showing support for a cause through a like, share, etc. on any social media platform, such as Facebook, Google+, or Twitter. The point of hashtag activism is arguably to share certain issues with one's friends and followers in the hopes that they will also share the same information. This leads to a widespread discussion and allows for change to occur. The concept of hashtag activism has received critique from both critics and supporters. Some supporters argue that using social media for activism is a good idea because it allows one to connect with people from all over the world in a short amount of time. Critics, on the other hand, question whether hashtag activism leads to real change as users are simply indicating that they care, rather than taking specific action to make a difference.
The oldest known mention of the term is from The Guardian in 2011, where it was mentioned in context to describe Occupy Wall Street protests. Chris Messina, a San Francisco resident, is credited with coining the term "hashtag." Twitter first introduce the hashtag as a means to coordinate conversation online, and the activists of the Occupy Wall Street Movement to coordinate spontaneous protests. Since then, the term is used to refer to the use of hashtags on multiple social media platforms to plan marches and protests, share stories, connect communities, and ultimately drive social change.
Hashtags and hashtag activism have a history on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. As hashtag activism continues to grow in popularity, institutions have decided to monitor social media conversations about themselves using hashtags, and to take it seriously when there is negative discussion. For instance, this was reflected in the 2016 presidential election when political candidate Jeb Bush fired a tech staffer for inappropriate tweets.
The following notable examples are organized by country of origin.
#IstandwithAhmed: In 2015, a teenage student named Ahmed Mohamed was arrested at his high school in Irving, Texas after his teacher mistaked his reassembled clock for a bomb. Ultimately, he was not convicted of any crimes, but he was suspended from school. Shortly after his story hit the news, a tech blogger named Anil Dash tweeted a picture of Ahmed being arrested in his NASA T-shirt along with the "#IstandwithAhmed." His tweet went viral and drew accusations of racism and Islamophobia against the school. It sparked an online movement where many individuals, including scientists and engineers, tweeted their support for Ahmed under the same hashtag.
#NotOneMore – The hashtag, "#NotOneMore" developed shortly after the May 23, 2014, shooting in Isla Vista, Santa Barbara, California. During this incident, six students attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, lost their lives. Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims, quickly spoke out about gun control, calling for stricter gun control during memorial ceremonies and rallies, chanting "Not One More!" The phrase became a hashtag on social media afterwards. Richard also worked with Everytown's digital team to create a tool to allow participants to send postcards to their senators, congressional representatives, and governor containing the phrase "Not One More."
Kony 2012 is a short film produced by Invisible Children, Inc. (authors of Invisible Children). It was released on March 5, 2012. The film's purpose was to promote the charity's "Stop Kony" movement to make African cult and militia leader, indicted war criminal and the International Criminal Court fugitive Joseph Kony globally known in order to have him arrested by the end of 2012, when the campaign expired. The film spread virally through the #Kony2012 hashtag.
The Black Lives Matter movement calls for an end to police brutality and the killings of African-Americans in the U.S. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was first started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi as a response to the trial and later acquittal of George Zimmerman who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The hashtag saw a revival in 2014, after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and after a grand jury did not indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.
In 2014, a media release of security camera footage that appeared to show NFL player, Ray Rice, punching his then-fiancée, Janay Rice, sparked public conversation on why victims of abuse stay in abusive relationships. In response to this question, writer and domestic abuse survivor Beverly Gooden started the #WhyIStayed campaign via Twitter in an effort to "change the tone of the conversation". The hashtag began to trend nationally five hours after its creation and was used more than 46,000 times that day. Beverly appeared on NPR's All Things Considered to discuss hashtag activism.
#YesAllWomen is a Twitter hashtag and social media campaign in which users share examples or stories of misogyny and violence against women. #YesAllWomen was created in reaction to another hashtag #NotAllMen, to express that all women are affected by sexism and harassment, even though not all men are sexist. The hashtag quickly became used by women throughout social media to share their experiences of misogyny and sexism. The hashtag was popular in May 2014 surrounding discussions of the 2014 Isla Vista Killings.
#ShoutYourAbortion is a hashtag and social media campaign used on Twitter that encourages women who have experience with abortion to break the silence surrounding it. The hashtag was created by American writer Lindy West and friends Amelia Bonow and Kimberly Morrison in response to the US House of Representatives efforts to defund Planned Parenthood following the Planned Parenthood 2015 undercover videos controversy.
The #icebucketchallenge is an act where a bucket of ice water is dumped over the head of an individual and documented by videos or pictures, and a "challenge" is issued to another person (or persons) to do the same. The "challenged" individual then either has to respond by dumping ice water on their head, or donate money to a Motor neuron disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also referd to as Lou Gehrig's disease) charity. However, doing both is also an option. The encouragement of the challenge is to circulate the video or photo on social media websites and applications with their community, friends, and family to show their support in raising awareness of ALS/MND. The involvement of #icebucketchallenge with the global audience of social media generated so much awareness and support that in early August 2014, the national ALS charity foundation president Barbara Newhouse, directly attributed the movement to a fundraising "surge" of $168,000 that accumulated in just a week. That figure contrasted with the $14,000 raised in the same time the year prior prompted the CEO and her 38 years in the industry to view the difference in support as "crazy." A month after the August 2014 fundraising week the number of videos that were directly associated with the #icebucketchallenge was tallied on the Facebook website from June 1 to September 1 at 17 million, according to the Facebook Newsroom. As the videos continued to climb, so did the challenges. Eventually, public figures such as James Franco, Charlie Rose, and even former president George W. Bush took an activist role in raising money for research and awareness of the ALS disease.
The #NODAPL, also referred to as the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, is a Twitter hashtag that refers to the social media campaign for the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline construction. The role social media played in this movement is so substantial that the movement itself is now often referred to by its hashtag: #NoDAPL. The hashtag reflected a grassroots campaign that began in early 2016 in reaction to the approved construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the northern United States. The Standing Rock Sioux and allied organizations took ultimately unsuccessful legal action to stop construction of the project. Youth from the reservation began a social media campaign in opposition of Dakota Access Pipeline, which gradually morphed into a larger movement with dozens of associated hashtags. The campaign attempted to raise awareness on the threat of the pipeline on the sacred burial grounds as well as the quality of water in the area.
In 2014, IOYA (The International Oromo Youth Association) created the #Oromoprotests hashtag to bring awareness to Oromo student protests against the Ethiopian government's plan to expand Addis Ababa and annex areas occupied by Oromo farmers and residents. The hashtag was utilized again starting in late November/December 2015 to bring attention to renewed Oromo protests and the Ethiopian government's violent crackdown on students, journalists and musicians.
Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria in May 2014, refusing to return the girls. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was created and used in hopes of keeping the story in the news and bringing international attention to it. The hashtag was used by first lady Michelle Obama to raise awareness for the kidnapped girls. The hashtag in itself has received 2 million retweets.
In March 2015, an activism campaign took hold in Australia. #Sosblakaustralia was a campaign started in a small aboriginal town in Western Australia. This campaign was to combat an initiative that would close down 150 rural aboriginal communities. Though this movement started in a rural community of 200 #Sosblakaustralia with poor Internet connection, it eventually spread to thousands of followers including Australian celebrities such as Hugh Jackman, this caused the movement to expand as far as London. In 18 days this movement had over 50,000 followers and had reached over 1,000,000 people worldwide.
In the Winter of 2012–2013, in Canada, a campaign was started by Canadian indigenous activists using #IdleNoMore in order to combat future legislation that would threaten indigenous land and water. The movement has continued to grow and unify native communities and the hashtag has made expansion possible. Idle No More started in Canada it has spread to native people around the world including the United States and Australia where indigenous people face similar issues. The use of the hashtag and social media has been instrumental in spreading Idle No More's message to indigenous people around the world giving those who otherwise would be voiceless a means to participate in activism.
In the Fall of 2014, a Canadian Inuit woman named Holly Jarrett created the #AmINext hashtag campaign to raise awareness about the Canadian Government's lack of response to the high rate of violence against Indigenous women. The campaign involves people taking photos of themselves with signs holding "#AmINext" and posting it to social media. The campaign was meant to encourage a national conversation about the invisibility and vulnerability of female Indigenous demographic and call attention to the minimal efforts of the Government in investigating the murders and disappearances. Holly was personally inspired to carry out the campaign as her cousin, Loretta Saunders, an Inuit woman from Labrador, went missing and was ultimately found dead in a wooded area. After the campaign, the government a national DNA missing person's index and introduce 30 safety initiatives to help indigenous women.
The response of the umbrella became a symbol in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay districts, Hong Kong to protest about the free election systems in China. The protestors had been camped on the streets and the public parks. The umbrella was used to protect the protesters in defence of the democratic political process in 2014 when police used tear gas in attempts to get them to leave. "Umbrella Revolution" and "Umbrella Movement" have been used to identify this event through British media outlet BBC. through social network services such as Twitter and Instagram made the events in Hong Kong reach many other people not directly involved with the protest with the use of #UmbrellaRevolution and created a worldwide social awareness to how Hong Kong was responding to support of the democratic process.
The epicenter of Paris encountered unexpected terrorist attacks, leading to worldwide effects to spread the incident. During this event, the violence that occurred were shocking. More specifically, terrorists were wearing suicide belts. With this on themselves, they were planning to enter the stadium along with other people. Despite the person being prevented from entering, this demonstrates the severity of how people are risking their own lives, indirectly affecting others. Following the incident, more than 70 million people begun to share this news on various social media platforms in order to reach a broader audience. For example, on Facebook, the social media platform enabled users to change their profile picture to a transparent overlay of the France flag. The purpose of changing a user’s Facebook profile was to indicate a wave of support for this unfortunate event that occurred. Just as how Facebook was utilized in expressing and spreading support for the event, Twitter was also utilized. However, rather than creating a transparent overlay on a Twitter’s user profile, a hashtag was created to emphasize support. This simple hashtag of #PrayforParis allowed users to spread support because audiences were not only informed about the event, but could also click on a hyperlink to learn more about the cause and other user’s perspectives. Furthermore, although social media platforms were useful in spreading awareness, the effect of younger individuals were just as notable. For example, a young child drew his thoughts on paper, and mentioned how "Shot after shot, bang after bang, wasting innocent lives!"
The Hallyu Wave, which literally translates to “flow of Korea” (or more commonly known as the Korean Wave) represents the social movement in connection to South Korean culture and entertainment. Economically, Hallyu is tremendously profitable, attracting millions of tourists and fans per year and produces many forms of entertainment, such as Korean pop music and television drama series, ultimately generating billions of US dollars in annual revenue which further strengthens its economic prosperity and stability. Furthermore, being a powerful social movement in its own right, Hallyu holds considerable influence in politics as well. The ninth president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, once stated that Hallyu can be used to improve or repair the tense relations between the Koreas. Still, North Korea does not have its own rendition of Hallyu and even rejects it; for example, when Psy’s "Gangnam Style" was released in 2012, North Korea viewed the song with contempt because while South Korea was attracting positive attention, it was also undermining the impoverished conditions of North Korea at the same time. In 2017, the South Korean military repeatedly broadcast the hit 2009 song "Tell Me Your Wish" by Girls' Generation over the North Korean border as a form of psychological warfare, with Pyongyang considering the broadcasts "an open act of war."
A 2012 Twitter discussion among women working in games, collated under the hashtag #1reasonwhy, indicated that sexist practices such as the oversexualization of female video game characters, workplace harassment and unequal pay for men and women were common in the games industry.
The hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick was initiated by Suey Park in December 2013 on Twitter. Suey Park is a freelance writer who supports Asian American feminism. She started this movement for giving Asian American women stronger voices. It aims to limit the patriarchical power in Asian American spaces and to alleviate racism in that is often criticized as inherent in white feminism.
In September 2014, The Hokkolorob Movement (Let The Voice Raise Movement) started. It is a series of protests initiated by the students of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India that began on September 3, 2014. The term "hok kolorob" ("make some noise") was first used as a hashtag on Facebook.
In 2014, protests of the then-recently enacted anti-gay laws included targeting the corporate sponsors for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia. Among the sponsors was McDonald's, whose marketing included the hashtag #CheersToSochi, which was hijacked by the queer activist group Queer Nation.
In August 2015, the #ilooklikeanengineer campaign started. The movement was started by Isis Anchalee to promote discussion of gender issues. Anchalee created the hashtag in response to backlash regarding her face being featured in an ad campaign for the company she works for. One year after the creation of #ilooklikeanengineer 250,000 people had used the hashtag.
In June 2015, The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide. This led to the creation of the hashtag #lovewins. This hashtag earned over 4.5 billion impressions on Twitter. President Barack Obama even joined in and tweeted using the hashtag.
In October 2016, following an anti-Asian incident in New York City and the subsequent open letter to the victim from Michael Luo, The New York Times released a video entitled "#thisis2016: Asian-Americans Respond". The video featured Asian Americans who had experienced racism. #thisis2016 subsequently emerged as a hashtag to highlight racism Asian Americans faced. Eventually, #BrownAsiansExist came to prominence following an open letter written to The New York Times expressing their disappointment in the lack of South and Southeast Asian Americans in their "#thisis2016" video. #BrownAsiansExist more broadly highlights the erasure of South Asian and Southeast Asian Americans in the American media's portrayal of Asian Americans.
In February 2018, the Mosque Me Too movement started, following the Me Too movement which gained worldwide prominence in October 2017 and the following months. Muslim women started sharing their experiences of sexual abuse at Muslim holy sites and on pilgrimages such as Hajj, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, using the hashtag #MosqueMeToo.
Hashtag activism has been criticized by some as a form of slacktivism. Chris Wallace, George Will, and Brit Hume of Fox News commented that hashtag activism was a "useless exercise in self esteem and that ... I do not know how adults stand there, facing a camera, and say, 'Bring back our girls.' Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, 'Uh oh, Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behavior'?" The ease of hashtag activism has led to concerns that it might lead to overuse and public fatigue. Critics worry that hashtag activism allows participants to be satisfied with a public symbol of concern, rather than actually be concerned and take additional action.
Other criticism for hashtag activism includes the argument that online social movements are often started by privileged individuals, rather than by those who the causes are supposed to help. Critics will often use the Kony 2012 movement as an example, as the film was directed by an American film and theater director. People also believe that hashtag activism lacks the passion displayed by movements that preceded it.
Diplomacy via Twitter is the lazy, ineffectual, naïve, and insulting way for America’s leaders to deal with major national and international issues… If you’re going to get involved anyway, Mr. President, learn to understand this and believe it, then announce it: Victory is only brought to you ‘courtesy of the red, white and blue.’ It’s certainly not won by your mere ‘unfriending’ the bad guys on Facebook. Leading from behind is not the American way.
Palin is one of many critics who believe hashtag activism to be lazy and inefficient. Malcolm Gladwell, in an article titled “Small Change: Why the Revolution will Not be Tweeted,” has also criticized hashtag activism for lacking the close ties he felt was necessary to inspire large action.
An online digital survey conducted in 2014 found that 64% of surveyed Americans said that they were more likely to support social and environmental issues through volunteering, donating, sharing information etc. after they liked a post or followed a non-profit online. The same study also showed that 58% of the surveyed Americans felt that tweeting or posting is an effective form of advocacy.
While critics worry that hashtag activism results in a lack of true action offline, supporters of hashtag activism believe it to be effective because it allows people to easily voice their opinions and educate themselves on numerous issues. By following or looking up a specific hashtag, people can find information on a specific movement and follow the different events that are occurring for that movement. Supporters will argue that it is through hashtag activism that people can learn more about ways to be civically engaged and attend protests. Because hashtag activism occurs on social media platforms with millions of daily users, it is also argued to expose individuals to more personal stories, thereby shifting public opinions and helping victims find support.
Hashtag activism has also been shown to impact policies and decisions made by organizations. It is able to achieve this because it provides organizations with a quick and easy way to view public opinion and outcry. For instance, in 2012 when the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation decided to stop funding mammograms through Planned Parenthood, the Internet created an uproar and tweeted, "standwithpp," and "singon." That same week, Komen has reversed its decision.
Hashtag activism has received support from key social media activists like Bev Goodman, who initiated the #WhyIStayed movement for women who suffered from domestic abuse. She stated in an NPR interview that, "the beauty of hashtag activism is that it creates an opportunity for sustained engagement, which is important for any cause.”
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