Originally published in the Batesville Daily Guard
I think we are now all aware of hashtag activism, or hashtivism, now. Whether it be #Occupy, #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter, #Kony2012, etc. They’ve worked their way into the public consciousnesses and only those who manage to avoid any sort of media — from smartphones to televisions — are probably not aware of their existence in the U.S.
The hashtag movements can be great. Resolute individuals looking to draw attention to their cause can essentially make a huge impact via social media, and in turn popular culture, by finding the right hashtag/slogan combo. You can motivate people to hit the street. Advertising has shown us that a simple slogan sticks in people’s heads.
Hashtag activism has been successful in serving as virtual rallying points, which often result in real life action. Look at the Arab Spring or the awareness that was brought to the situation in Uganda and the atrocities perpetuated by the Lord’s Resistance Army under the command of Joseph Kony.
But does this sort of hashtag activism produce the intended results, if any at all? The Arab Spring saw democratic uprisings that wound up taking people down the path of sectarian violence. Joseph Kony has never been caught. Instead of winning hearts and minds, Occupy wound up being seen as a public nuisance as occupations of public spaces turned from days into weeks.
A lot of this points to one glaring problem with hashtag activism: Who’s the boss?
I say that because much of the time, the expressed goals of any one hashtag movement can very wildly member to member. Unlike successful movements of the past, there doesn’t seem to be anyone person, or even small group, that act as a leader or voice. Instead, it often seems that the person nearest to the camera, voice recorder or notepad gets to be the voice at any given time.
No leadership makes it unclear who is defining the purpose as well as defining the dialogue.
This has opened a door for pretty much anyone to sneak in and assert their views on the given hashtag movement. That’s why you often hear different members of hashtag movements expressing a desire for dialogue for changes on one hand and others wanting revolution “now” on the other in the same interview. When you go on social media you’ll often find people who simply want to show support and others with a racial/political axe to grind using the same hashtag.
It’s just a mess. It also shows the problem of having democratic movements without a leader to point things in the right direction. It’s like having a kitchen where there’s no head chef and the other cooks scramble to take orders while cooking those orders the way they want to cook them.
That sort of situation inspires curse-word-filled rants from Gordon Ramsay, and for good reason. When you have no direction, you have no identity except what others give you.
And these hashtag movements suffer because of it, often because what started out as the central message wound up getting drowned out by a sea of equally loud voices who have their own interpretation.
Now, hashtags do have their advantages. After all, the movements for change in the past often took decades to hit a critical mass. But the changes they were able to bring have lasted. With the hashtag activism, it seems that movements may burn brighter and more intense, but they also burn out faster than what came before.