What is it
We all know what a hashtag is: it brings attention to a topic is a post or social media, it stemmed from an idea by Chris Messiner back on August 23rd, 2007 when he thought of an idea to use the hashtag as a way to group messages or ideas for easier and in the current day more than 75% of social media users hashtag daily. The ability to group your message to a particular topic has been used to achieve a plethora of goals of activism from positive ones such as the ones #standwithukraine and #BLM to other motivational tags like #believeinyourself #positivemindset. But as it can be used for good obviously toxic and degrading tags are most definitely used.
Why do we use it
So now that we know the general premise of the hashtag, why is it so prominent in activism? Well thanks to the modern age we no longer have to attend in-person at rallies or protests to express our opinion, we have social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and much more as a platform to do so. We can see this in action with the aforementioned #standwithukraine on social media platforms. With the ease of expressing your opinion, in the case of Ukraine, it was used to express how globally, people are not happy about the invasion, this also subsequently influences politics as countries are putting restrictions on Russia
So how does the hashtag contribute to the world of Activism?
As Wikipedia puts it: Hashtag activism refers to the use of Twitter’s hashtags for Internet activism. The Hashtag has become one of the many ways that social media contributes to civic engagement and social movements. The hashtag is easy to use and is able to have a profound spreading effect. As further reinforced by Dr. Manash Pratim Goswami who wrote a paper on Social Media and Hashtag Activism: “The addition of the hashtag by Twitter has streamlined the organization of online campaigns, to the point where a majority of offline mass protests are organized online.”
For example, the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 saw the rise of the #BLM to a global level. So how did this happen? Obviously, we all knew it through social media through the famous hashtag and with the internet being accessible to all it was only a matter of time until it exploded. The result of the mass sharing was that a quarter of the US population changed their views of police brutality towards African Americans according to Andrew Perrin. This was in a form of positive activism, they want to see a positive change. From this example, we can see how a single hashtag can cause an entire movement to come into shape. This shows us the power of the hashtag.
A hashtag for good intention can bring attention and awareness to issues, however, as it can bring attention for a good cause it can also be used for more radical views, such as the #MAGA or the Make America Great Again, popularised by Trump’s 2016 movement. The movement was based on patriotism and nationalism targeted at the “older generation” for the “good old days”, by saying that America has gone for the worst because of minorities and other non-white ideologies. Though it was mainly offline protests and rallies it’s the effect of the sharing of the hashtag that propelled it to its infamous status. We can see in this example that if the public can influence politics, politics can also manipulate the public through misinformation and scapegoating.
How can we learn/analyze from this
With more than 75% of social media users hashtagging daily, we can discover how rapidly certain trends can influence people’s views on politics and social issues, We can also discover how much influence hashtag activism has on the political climate since social media allows users to express discontent about any political views.