Hashtag activism is a term given to the latest trend of creating a hashtag for a cause, such as for a tragedy or issue in the world. Many see this as a way to spread awareness and aid a cause while others see it as a waste of time. Those who participate in hashtag activism believe they are able to make a difference in the world simply by posting a hashtag to join the conversation online. But is that really what they are doing? Is hashtag activism really an active solution or “slacktivism” as skeptics would call it? While hashtags have the ability to bring people together and the potential to solve problems, what are most hashtag activism campaigns really accomplishing?
The Hashtag Activism Debate
The issue with hashtag activism is whether or not it is actually making a difference in the world or if it is just a way for people to feel like they are making a difference. Just because the whole world knows about a problem or acknowledges that it exists doesn’t mean that the problem is fixed. Actions need to be taken in order to fix the problem, and most would say that adding a hashtag to your social media isn’t an effective action, bringing about the term “slacktivism.” For issues such as world hunger, using #hunger isn’t going to solve anything other than raise awareness. But what is awareness compared to money? What is awareness compared to time dedicated to feeding starving people? Just because a hashtag is trending doesn’t mean the issue is being dealt with.
According to a study performed in 2014, 75% of the Millennial generation uses social media platforms to discuss issues that matter to them. It also found that 58% of Americans think using a hashtag related to an issue is an effective form of support. The problem critics see is that online support isn’t typically backed by actions that make a difference. While increasing awareness is good, you need to have an ultimate result of action.
Real Hashtag Activism Campaigns
In April 2014, several girls were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in Nigeria. Some escaped, but many others were still missing, bringing about the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls as an attempt to raise awareness. Even President Obama and his wife participated in this hashtag activism, among other celebrities. The campaign certainly got worldwide attention but ultimately failed to create real change. One hashtag isn’t going to make a terrorist organization willingly release anyone.
Following a terrorist attack in Paris in which 129 people were killed by tourists, the hashtag #PrayForParis went viral on social media. Similar to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, this hashtag only created awareness but ultimately made no visible difference to helping out those affected by the attacks. This campaign can be considered successful only in that it created more prayers for the people of Paris.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was for some a fun moment in the spotlight, while for others it was a chance to make a difference in people’s lives. Unlike the previous hashtag activism campaigns, the Ice Bucket Challenge had a plan. The challenge was to dump a bucket of ice water over yourself (or have one dumped on you) to spread awareness for the A.L.S. Association. Once completing the challenge, you were to challenge another. If you chose against the water dumping, you had to donate money to the association. Or you could choose both the water bucket and the donation, which made this campaign one that actually made a difference. The association raised over $115 million to research amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This campaign increased awareness for the disease as well as raised money to research a cure.
Can Hashtag Activism be Successful?
Considering the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, yes, it is possible for hashtag activism to be effective. However, other than creating awareness, most campaigns don’t seem to make an actual impact. Some use the hashtags to bring attention to themselves in the midst of what’s often a tragedy. They use the hashtags to be thought well of as a compassionate or involved person.
Success isn’t measured by how many times a hashtag is used but rather by how much it truly helped the situation. The best way to make a hashtag activism campaign effective is to have a call to action. It needs money for the cause. It needs an actionable plan to resolve the issue. If you want to support a city that has been bombed, don’t think a hashtag is going to solve anything. Send them money. Send them food and clothing. To make a difference in the world, you have to stop thinking a trending word on social media is going to accomplish anything without a plan. So instead, volunteer your time. Volunteer your money and donate to charities. Send your prayers out to those in need. But never rely solely on a hashtag to save the world.