Hashtag Activism: The Benefits and Limitations of #Activism

We live and breathe through social media every day. It’s the first thing we do when we wake up and the last thing we look at before bed. We are the generation of technology, of 24/7 updates on trending topics and breaking news. We are the Hashtag generation with #bringbackourgirls,  #blacklivesmatter,  #deflategate and many other  hashtags, which are supposed to inform and inspire us to take action, start a movement and have our voices be heard. This social media activism has risen in popularity worldwide, but has it made for an effective movement, and more importantly, will it bring about a lasting change?

I think it brings a gradual change, and has the ability to empower people to stand up for something. It can help to mobilize citizens and create action within a movement. The problem is that most of the people that get the message through the Twittersphere sit idly on their butt, gazing at their phone instead of doing something about it. The upside is that we are now more informed and up to date than ever, and those who do care about an issue or movement are able to use Twitter to organize and create action. It’s difficult to say whether or not there has been much change, but what has been created is a platform for a more sustained civil engagement movement.

When it comes to making effective changes and movements with hashtag activism, one should first look at the conversation started by this social media activism. The ice bucket challenge comes to mind; this virtual fad raised a tremendous amount of money and awareness compared to previous years of fundraising for ALS.

Likewise, the Eric Garner protests and movement against police brutality compelled President Obama to speak on the issue. He took action and created a task force aimed at keeping police officers accountable. The change has only trickled down to ideas, but this activism has started a movement. For example, in    Los Angeles, police officers will soon be fitted with police cameras which are designed to keep them more accountable. Of course, the  change is slow, and no one is sure how effective it will be, but who knows where this movement would be without the sustained social media presence it created.

The problem is how slow our government is to make laws and changes, but the progress towards transparency and action is on its way. These are only small victories, but the constant social media stream has allowed these topics to stay on the airwaves and remain key discussion points.

In a sense, this Twitter activism is a cop-out. It leaves the action to the few who actually have the wherewithal to put time and energy into a grassroots campaign. The other people, who feel as if they don’t have time to volunteer or be an integral part of the movement, continue on with their day, liking other posts or retweeting. Obviously, the problem is that there is only so much power in the internet. Raising awareness online has too many limitations and much of our generation sits idly by. These “slacktivists” wait for others to make the change that we so desperately need and merely share on Facebook and hashtag on Twitter.

Every team or group or grassroots movement you may have been a part of has had its share of slackers, those who rode the wave of success but didn’t put in the effort. This is what we are experiencing with social media activism. We are informed of issues and are drawn more intently to some more than others.  We have the power to propose change and inform others of the issue. It’s just a matter of putting in the groundwork. Social media is a new foundation we can lay for political and social change, but if we don’t build it up and make the effort, it will lead to nothing. So when you hashtag or repost an important issue, ask yourself if what you are doing is actually making a difference. If this hashtag movement is to amount to something, we need people to create startups for movements and lay the foundation for change. Be someone who creates, not just a re-blogger.

 

Alex Guardado is a fifth-year public health science major.  He can be reached at aguarda1@uci.edu.