Hashtag Activism 2.0

We all remember our experiences with the #IceBucketChallenge and #BringBackOurGirls, but the actions formally known as #Slacktivism is back and being used to unite.  
Earlier in 2014, social media was on fire with videos and pictures to support charitable causes through hashtag awareness. What began as a way to promote Occupy Wall Street activities in 2011 was soon to be thought of in a different light. Although much attention was brought to philanthropic endeavors, rumors claimed that not much actual money was being raised,offering little help to progress. Doubt crept into minds as we saw a scores of people simply posting videos rather than uniting to help one another.
This led to skeptics questioning the effectiveness of a Tweet or post when dealing with major world problems. Those seeking Likes and Retweets were called out across the web and the word ‘slacktivism’ soon came to represent the gray area between activist and doppelganger.
According to the Urban Dictionary, slacktivism is: “The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.”
This is the equivalent of picketing oil companies and then driving a gas-guzzling SUV home. Hashtag activism quickly fell from the good graces of the social media population until recent developments within our country and many others began to give people a reason to stand up for each other, and the hashtag was more than willing to help.
Protests in Ferguson and New York, while encroaching upon entirely controversial subjects, represent the power held by individuals when joined together. Social media played a major role in allowing people to gather and be heard. Protesters were able to communicate, organize and educate themselves through the use of the previously criticized hashtag.
#EricGardner, #BlackLivesMatter, and #ICantBreath were popular choices in recent weeks, topping out at 69,000 Tweets per hour featuring the tags. Through the use of a seemingly simple concept, voices stretched across the country including Philadelphia, Washington DC, all the way to Oakland, CA.
The US isn’t the only country making use of social media as a tool for change. Over the summer, world news told of events taking place across the world using Twitter and Facebook as propellers for major change.
Hong Kong, in their fight against the strict Chinese government, began using internet tools in their quest for democracy. Protesters were so successful in their attempts that the government viewed the internet as a major threat and levied extreme regulations to block access from the public. While China is still seen as a major prohibitor of the World Wide Web, Syria and Iran are considered to be even worse. Syria’s web connections have been cut off more than ten times in the last two years. The government blames terrorists but it is believed to be acts of filtering and blocking by Syrian officials. Individuals found to be accessing or sending restricted information (religious information, media reports, blogs, pornography) are thrown in jail or worse.
Freedom House released a report December 5th 2014 detailing freedom on the web across the globe. Their findings show that internet freedom is maintaining a steady decline for the fourth year in a row.  Freedom House states that, “Between May 2013 and May 2014, 41 countries passed or proposed legislation to penalize legitimate forms of speech online, increase government powers to control content, or expand government surveillance capabilities.”
What’s Next?
This leads one to wonder as to the specific implications that Hashtag Activism really has on the future of the global reach of individuals alone and as a collective whole.  In 2013, Pew Research Center featured a study on Civic Engagement both on- and offline. Their studies show that there are a few recognizable influences in the effect of political and social engagement.

  • Class

Economic and cultural differences have a major impact on civic engagement on- and offline, although the trend appear to be consistently more profound on social networking sites.

  • Growth

The use of social networking sites has grown profoundly in the last six years. As a result of this growth there is greater involvement within civic engagement online. 36% more people in 2012 than 2008 claimed to have educated themselves further due to social media posts.

  • Habits

More and more of the US population are featuring their civic duties (which were present before social sites) within their internet activity. This is effective in drawing our attention to the sociopolitical habits of the average American.
Pew Research Center’s study showed that 48% of Americans had participated in civic engagement in the last 12 months, with 10% participating in a political protest or rally. Keep in mind that the study was taken in 2012 and does not reflect the tremendous growth in peaceful protests we have seen in recent months.
The internet has created an atmosphere where individuals have the authority and platform to speak their mind towards political figures. Chat, email, video and social media are all forms of communication being utilized to take a stance and get active in current events. Through this we are seeing higher rates of activism both online and offline. The importance of these facts remain to be seen, but through the democracy that Hong Kong protesters yearn for, we each have a voice if we choose to be heard.

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