A piece in the Dallas Morning News proclaims that hashtag activism is changing the world — that social media’s use of “#” followed by a slogan is having a real effect on politics. Frankly, I think author Cassandra Jaramillo doesn’t grasp what she’s talking about:
It’s the type of organizing that would have typically taken several days to arrange. But in the age of hashtag activism, that quick response became possible with a few tweets, Facebook posts and text messages.
#WomensMarch, #NoBanNoWall, #ADayWithoutImmigrants, #NotMyPresidentDay and the upcoming #ADayWithoutAWoman on March 8 all fall under the anti-Trump hashtag collection #Resist, which has gained momentum since the president’s inauguration.
On this, Jaramillo is right. Social media in general and hashtags in particular do speed up activists’ ability to organize protests.
Unfortunately, that’s where the measurable effectiveness ends.
“Hashtag activists” are the people who populate Twitter and Facebook, posting their pithy little comments with their hashtag and pretending that they’re making a difference. They believe they’re really doing some good in the world despite no one they’re trying to reach actually caring what Twitter thinks of the situation. This is “virtue signaling,” or letting the world know that even if your butt is on the couch, your thoughts are somehow an accomplishment.
The most glaring example of hashtag activism was #BringBackOurGirls, which popped up after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Nigeria in 2014. Social media erupted with post after post tagged with the phrase. Celebrities throughout the west posted photos of themselves holding signs saying “#BringBackOurGirls.”
Did Boko Haram ever say: “Dude! Justin Timberlake wants us to release the girls! We’re done!”? Could the hashtaggers honestly say that wasn’t their hope?
Hashtag activism makes people feel warm and tingly inside like they are actually doing something to help those girls. They aren’t, and that’s why hashtag activism isn’t changing anything and never will.
Frankly, no one cares what Twitter thinks of anything. I think that’s part of the reason why President Trump has trolled it so hard in the past. The liberal Twitosphere gets morally outraged, and the right gets a hearty laugh. It’s a win/win for Trump, but in the end, no one really cares about the sideshow.
The left can tweet #Resist all they want. So what?