Hashtag Activism

It used to be you would have to spread the word about a cause using guerilla tactics like finding similarly minded people at groups that had similar goals. I think they called it networking, the social part was obvious.

Today people are crowd-sourcing activism with petitions on Change.org. They are using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to gather supporters, build a network and make things happen. It’s not underground or in certain circles, “cause-sourcing” in on Facebook feeds and much like the crab grass invading my lawn, seems to be taking over the world.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Austin, Texas apparently has a SwabFest every year to gather potential donors to help people with blood cancer. This year Brady Oman was the headliner. He was diagnosed with leukemia and this swabbing event saved his life. He found a donor amid the 565 new donors. Those donors will save 7-10 lives. Brady underwent the stem cell replacement procedure in June and is on his way to recovery. The promotion of the event and updates really helped connect people to the results of the program and get more people involved.

On a larger scale, hashtag activism is calling out people whether they deserved to be raked over the coals of public opinion or not. When Stephen Colbert’s show tweeted a clearly satirical message regarding Asians, referencing a previous night’s discussion, he landed in hashtag hell. The show had to address the backlash and lend credibility to a person who did not like the humor. It’s the old adage “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

In a 2010 article for The New York Times author Malcolm Gladwell writes about the power of social media networks. And the drawbacks.

“The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change—if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash—or if it doesn’t need to think strategically. But if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy.”

So is it true activism if a movement doesn’t achieve change? Comedians will still tell off color jokes. People will still support getting tested for marrow donation. And the crowd will move on to the next shiny object.

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