More than a #hashtag

In recent years, it is becoming more and more popular for online movements to start and make changes in society. Support is given just from a single tap or swipe but are we truly making a difference? Millennials and Generation Zers have witnessed how political activism on social media has turned into powerful social movements that have brought about change and legislation. Social movements like #blacklivesmatter #metoo #timesup #bringbackourgirls #aminext #prayforparis #justice4grenfell and #MuteRKelly were all started from a hashtag. This form of activism was and is being used to get voices heard. Activism is taking on a stance that reflects the current social climate. The use of technology is bringing passionate people together to fight injustice and spread awareness in a way that cannot be ignored. The online approach can appear distant, lacking in effectiveness and connection yet conveys the voice of many. But by taking an online method to change, can there be a deep manifestation of change in how we live our lives? Or is the distant impersonal form of activism helping build a smokescreen for change rather than prevention?

Great social change has come out of trailblazing hashtags like #blacklivesmatter #metoo #timesup. From spreading awareness on traumatic experiences, abuse, and mistreatment we can question institutionalized belief systems and systematic racism. This creates a societal shift on the views of activism, impacting political and civic engagement. That said, social media gives the impression of change when justice has not been served. This is seen as Slacktivism – the impression of activism. Being that, it is easy to empower people through a click but makes it easy to disengage with the cause. Changes in society have been made due to social media activism. The #metoo campaign has brought about a ground-breaking shift in sexism and sexual harassment. Many survivors have used their stories to spread awareness and build an army to serve justice. Prolific sexual predators and rapists like Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar, and R Kelly have been arrested and are currently in prison. This highlights that social change is not about the tools people use but the people themselves, giving everyone a voice and an opinion.  

George Floyd, who was murdered under police arrest, when officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Protests around the world formed, to bring justice for George Floyd and his family. As millions watched Floyd take his final breaths under police brutality an awakening was forming. The death of George Floyd created legislation that will combat racial profiling, police brutality, and excessive force.   

Online social movements create a safe space for the marginalized. Spaces give validation for those within the network who have felt ignored, silenced, and/or pushed aside. These networks take movements from online to in-person change. This creates a social convergence as people can see the urgency in tragic events and take action. Explosive moments in the media that expose injustice get high levels of attention, but trends tend to die out once the shock factor reduces and is forgotten. Twitter does not create a resolution any more than a small group of protestors would. People are responsible for joining, creating energy, and action. Just because a movement starts online doesn’t mean it has to stay there. There would be faster action and less violence if social media was used in the past. The psychological impact of online movements has gravely affected protesters. As many activists are likely to be experiencing trauma, which has sparked the urgency in protesting from blatant and institutionalized racism, racial profiling, discrimination, and microaggressions. This can be manifested as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety, Anger management, and depression, in-person protesting can be triggering. Online activism allows for a haven for protesters during a troubling time.     

Movements create inclusivity and it is in these simple actions that bring about change. The power of social media allows the everyday person to never be kept in silence or closeted. But there is still a level of caution, as more footage surfaces and conversations of mistreatment are being held. Oluwatoyin Salau an emerging Black Lives Matter Leader was kidnapped, raped, and murdered shortly after revealing on Twitter that she had been sexually assaulted. There is a level of caution that needs to be taken when engaging in any form of activism. Safeguarding figures and protecting the vulnerable should be at the forefront of the movement. There will inevitably be backlash and resistance from oppressors. This is shown through a range of shock tactics like maximizing traumatic events in the media sporadically to peak public interest to showboat pain without creating any real change. The perpetuation of stereotypes also adds to the criminalizing of movements. Notions of the ‘Angry Black Women’ and the ‘Dangerous Black Man’ try to deconstruct and diminish the mistreatment of black people, building a pressure cooker of anguish and brutality. These negative stereotypes push blame on marginalized groups based on their reactions to violence but not the oppressor’s actions themselves which ignited the backlash initially. 

A protester wearing a “Black Lives Matter” earring chants slogans as she marches in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York City, during a protest against the death of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, California, U.S. March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Gabriela Bhaskar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Social media’s main goal is to facilitate communication. To connect people through their passions and commitment to a cause. It is in this form of activism that changes public awareness and the tone for change. Social media activism reduces the need for propaganda and forced rhetoric by having personal validation within an intimate network. With any movement, the work that is put in will bring out change, not how many likes or hashtags a post receives. Activism is not about the platform you use but what you do with your voice and resources. The internet and social media cannot be controlled, it is limitless, it is a force that cannot be stopped or silenced, it is forever changing, and societal activism is changing with it. With every post, justice is being served. It will always be more than a hashtag.