Depending on how you view Twitter, the usefulness of hashtags and the intentions of those using them, hashtag activism can have two very different meanings. If you are among the skeptical who believe that those who tweet about great political causes and start hashtags about them to raise awareness are just bandwagoner’s looking to feel good about themselves the Urban Dictionary meaning might be one you agree with
“The kind of activism undertaken when you “do something” about a problem by tweeting or posting links to Facebook, without any intent of ever actually doing something. Nothing more than a nonsense feelgood gesture so that one can say they “did something about” whatever trendycause they’re pretending to care about. Usually only lasts a week or two before the cause is completely forgotten.”
However, if you are among those who believe that even the laziest attempts of raising awareness can make a difference you might appreciate the less snarky definition of hashtag activism – this being the attempt to raise awareness for a cause or bring attention to an event by creating a hashtag relating to the situation and composing tweets about the situation in order to trend the topic on Twitter.
When it comes to deciding whether hashtag activism has real world consequences, I am on the fence mainly because of the number of Twitter (and even other social media users, since Facebook has that hashtag option now) users who jump on the “first world digital bandwagon” just because it seems like something they should do at the time. This and also because many of the people who start these grand twitter political hashtags for causes are “American do-gooders” (really do-gooders in general) who, in the end, really do not do anything for the cause but create self-righteous tweets and hashtags from the comfort of their own homes. The whole Kony 2012 and Bring Back Our Girls spectacle blew up because of a bunch of famous faces that jumped on those hashtags to make it look like they cared and were making a difference but really they were using it for nothing more than publicity -let’s be honest here. I guarantee after taking those pictures with that piece of paper and scribbled hashtag they didn’t give a second thought to those ‘causes’ and went off living their famous lives. Not that I am putting these celebrities down, their publicists or managers most likely made them do it, I’m just saying it’s one of those bandwagon problems that comes with this territory – where nothing comes from it except that their fans are now scrambling to figure out what they were advertising.
This leads me to the other side of my fence, while that was the constraints of hashtag activism – bandwagon tweets with no real outcome for the cause – it does give it great publicity and awareness to the fans of those famous faces. This will then get more people talking about it and maybe someone will finally do their research so more intelligent and informative tweets can be tagged in the hashtags rather than half informed outraged tweets. Also, once a hashtag goes viral and becomes a media sensation journalists and newspapers will take notice and write an article on it, pulling tweets from the hashtag to post in the paper as examples. This leads to even more exposure, alerting those who might not use twitter about what the new media outrage is and what people are saying about it. More awareness, more exposure.
In the end, at the very least, hashtag activism may not solve world hunger or even completely solve the issue it is raising awareness for but it does give its cause a lot of attention which will encourage someone to make some sort of change for the better. Usually some sort of good comes out of all of the attention given to the situation, usually it is small, but it is something.