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article imageOp-Ed: Hashtivism has become the squeaky wheel that wants to be heard

By Karen Graham     Mar 2, 2017 in Internet
A new word for activism on social media has been coined. "Hashtivism" is the use of hashtags on social media to express and promote someone's political or social position. And as a communications tool, it has sometimes proven to be useful.
Those of us who lived through the 60s might remember the anti-war protests and sit-ins - Activism against the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. At that time, you either used the telephone to spread the word and voice your opinion or you read about it in the newspaper or watched the news on television.
But the advent of the computer age and growth in social media has changed our way of communicating with the world, and yes, our sphere of influence has grown considerably to include a lot more people than we could get in touch with back in the 1960s. Today, we can share information immediately, including pictures, around the globe.
Hashtivism as a tool for change is widely used on Twitter, although it can also apply to users of Facebook and Instagram. And while there are some opponents of hashtivism that claim using it is harmful because it gives participants the "illusion they are making a change with nothing more than a click," there have been many successful campaigns for change or justice that can be attributed to hashtivism.
A hashtivism campaign that worked
One of the hashtivism causes that literally went viral was the 2014 #bringbackourgirls tweet campaign. In April 2014, over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from their boarding school by armed Islamist militants. There wasn't global outrage at first, but that soon changed.
Michelle Obama
Oby Ezekwesili, vice president of the World Bank for Africa gave a speech expressing his outrage and demanding the Nigerian government help to "bring back our girls." Those four words became a rallying cry to people all over the world and the hashtag #bringbackourgirls was born. The Nigerian government put up a reward and the UK and U.S. sent in specialist teams to help.
The whole point is this - Social media has proven to be more than just a place to find recipes or a date. It now serves an important function in keeping us informed on what is happening right this minute. And when a social media campaign gets big enough, it is picked up by journalists, politicians, and others who are able to respond to the problem in pro-active ways.
The Black Lives Matter hashtag
In 2013, a campaign was started on social media that has grown into an international activist movement after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin in Florida. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag represented the African American community's campaign against violence and perceived systemic racism toward black people.
Black Lives Matter
Patrisse Khan-Cullors, one of the creators of the hashtag says that using the hashtag as a platform and organizing tool has paid off in the growth of the campaign, bringing together many different groups in helping to galvanizing Black communities to the social injustices they face every day. Today, there are over 30 local chapters in the United States and the hashtag has grown into a true political force.
Standing with Standing Rock brought out alternative news sources
The opposition by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe is an interesting example of virtual political activism and face-to-face activism. The Standing with Standing Rock hashtag also brought alternative news media into the public eye.
Backbone Campaign
In the case of the Standing Rock Sioux protest, another hashtag was born, #nodapl. The No DAPL hashtag was a force in creating a political movement around the globe, with marches, and sit-ins taking place in faraway places like New Zealand. Not only that, but the hashtag also resulted in a successful campaign to get several investors in the pipeline to divest their money.
Additionally, when Wells Fargo Bank would not pull its funding from DAPL, a campaign to get customers to close their checking accounts was started, and it did hurt the financial institution. U.S. military veterans joined the fray last year, literally standing with Standing Rock water protectors against the sheriff deputies and National Guardsmen at the encampment.
There are so many more causes, campaigns and social protests we can name, and the success they have seen is proof that people do listen and will respond to voices that are raised in the name of perceived or real injustices, wrongdoing by governments or anything else that matters to the public.
This is especially true in the light of conditions in the world today. I think one of the biggest improvements to come out of hashtivism today is that we don't always have to rely on the mainstream media for our news. Time and again, and especially with the examples in this article, the story was not reported or downplayed by mainstream news sources. It was only after the story went viral on social media that they began to actually report the story for us.
As the old saying goes - The squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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