Hashtag Activism: An Avenue for Social Change?

  • #YesAllWomen
  • #Bringbackourgirls
  • #Kony2012
  • Ice Bucket Challenge

The same critique pops up for all of these social media trends: Are these hashtags and videos actually doing anything to help solve the issue?

It took a little under two days for the hashtag, #WhyIStayed/#WhyILeft, to become a media sensation after the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal, and I find it hard for anyone to argue that it isn’t raising awareness on an important topic.

According to the Washington Post, Beverly Gooden, a domestic violence survivor, created the hashtag after many people questioned why his wife, Janay Palmer, didn’t leave him after the assault.

Gooden responded with the hashtag, #WhyIStayed

It was heartbreaking and inspiring to read through multiple pages of this shared hashtag. The tweets were a mix of domestic violence survivors and other peoples’ comments after reading them.

The fact that people’s initial response to the Ray Rice scandal is to ask, “Why didn’t she leave?” is an answer in itself that there needs to be much more awareness on domestic violence. I’ll admit when I first heard about the story, I asked myself similar questions. Then I started thinking about all the sacrifices and problems that arise when dealing with the issue.

Basically, it all boils down to that fact that leaving a abusive relationship just isn’t that simple–especially when finances and children are involved. #WhyIStayed gives a voice to the voiceless and helps break a silence that many people have been harboring for a long time.

Hashtag activism gives people an outlet to express their thoughts in a shared, organized setting.  It raises awareness on a topic that many people are unfamiliar with–and, if you really think about it,  isn’t that the first step in creating change?




9 responses to “Hashtag Activism: An Avenue for Social Change?

  1. You made such a great point that I have never thought about, hashtags really are creating change. I have to admit when the Ice Bucket Challenge first started popping up on my newsfeed I got a little annoyed, but once I looked into it and the reason it started I changed my whole outlook. I absolutely agree with you that these hashtags and viral videos can and will make a difference. The only question I have is how can we make sure that viewers research the cause and learn about it instead of getting annoyed and skip it on their newsfeed?

  2. I know a lot of people that look down upon hashtag activism because they think people are just doing it to join a trend, look cool, or gain attention. But I agree that hashtags often fulfill their purpose by bringing attention to an important issue. I’m sure there were plenty of people who heard about ALS for the first time during the Ice Bucket Challenge and decided to donate money to ALS research. That campaign was wildly successful.

    Of course, people also have to be careful when using hashtags. DiGiorno made an error last week that was equal parts hilarious and horrifying. Not taking the time to actually figure out what the hashtag was about, they tweeted “#WhyIStayed you had pizza.” Yikes. I hope no one from Drake’s PR program works at DiGiorno.

  3. I think hashtag activism is the best way to shed light on these situations that are currently affecting people all around the world. So many people are plugged into the news and media, so raising awareness on these sites draws a huge audience. In my small high school, we had a mother and an alum pass away from ALS, so it was something our town had been raising funds for since I was in junior high. I think shining a light on the matters that might not get recognized is an insanely cool thing for social media to do. Getting this recognition will in turn get people to realize the importance of helping fund research for diseases like ALS and support for those who need it in abuse cases. I’m hoping social media will continue to find ways to help not only these few cases, but shed light to new organizations that need a boost to help people as well.

  4. I think that it’s a good start to creating awareness, but with more “controversial” topics like #YesAllWomen (which dealt with feminism), there can be backlash and a lot of it.

    At the same time, it can be really easy just to tag something and not do anything beyond that. There’s definitely drawbacks and benefeits to hashtag activism, but that’s everything, right?

  5. I think hashtag activism is a great way to get people to pay attention to some of todays social issues. There are so many people on Twitter and Facebook who aren’t interested in turning on the nightly news or picking up a paper, but a trending hashtag might snag their attention. Just as Tim mentioned, it’s important that people understand the meaning behind the hashtag, but many of the hashtags you listed above have brought national attention to some serious issues.

  6. I agree that hashtag activism is important in terms of bringing awareness to an issue or topic. Personally, I get most of my news and information on social media, and whether I’m already informed of the topic, trending hashtags that I see pique my interest enough to want to learn what they’re about. This is a great way to engage people and provide them with knowledge they wouldn’t normally find elsewhere.

  7. I think that hashtag activism can help bring a lot of attention/awareness to a specific issue or topic. For an example, the ice bucket challenge, I hadn’t ever heard of it until I saw it on Facebook. After that I decided to do some research about. I think with the ALS ice bucket challenge, the hashtags were very successful, and a lot of money ended up being donated, which is good.

  8. I think that social media is the new way to report the news, and hashtag activism is one way this idea is displayed. People become more informed through checking online, and hearing varying viewpoints on the subject matter. I personally really like news hashtags because I learn about a lot of trending topics I might not normally have heard about.

  9. I think we’re already seeing how powerful hashtag activism can be, with hashtags like WhyIStayed and the ALS Challenge. I agree with you that it is creative, and in my opinion I think that right now, when social media is one of the first things people look at in the morning, it’s extremely important to use it for a good cause when it’s powerful enough to make a change. Social media isn’t just something fun we go on anymore, I think it’s a part of our culture and that hashtags are allowing people to get more involved in serious issues than they would be able to on their own.

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