The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Community News Network

May 9, 2014

Is hashtag activism better than doing nothing? Or about the same?

(Continued)

"If we take #CancelColbert at face value, we can easily dismiss it as shrill, misguided, and frivolous," wrote Jay Caspian King in the New Yorker. "But after speaking to Park . . . I wonder if we might be witnessing the development of a more compelling — and sometimes annoying and infuriating — form of protest, by a new group of Merry Pranksters, who are once again freaking out the squares in our always over reacting, always polarized online public sphere."

#BringBackOurGirls

Let's be very clear, here: The people tweeting on this latest activist hashtag are in no way "merry pranksters," and their objective does not involve "freaking out the squares." But the online quest to free Nigeria's missing schoolgirls, if it can be termed a quest, springs from this varied, iterative tradition of social media activism. Accordingly, it suffers from two of the criticisms that have been leveled at #CancelColbert, #Kony2012, and hundreds of other eclectic campaigns.

First, critics argue, "hashtag activism" is lazy — it's a frictionless convenience, conducted from the safety of a computer screen, that often serves more as a flattering public symbol of concern than concern itself. More insidiously, some claim, these hashtags are often started not by the people they're supposed to help, but by privileged, pitying outsiders on the other side of the world, gender gap or class divide. That's what made #Kony2012 so vaguely icky. And that's what made #NotYourAsianSidekick and #JusticeforTrayvon so great — those hashtags transcended whatever paternalistic or imperialistic traditions may exist in traditional media and discourse, and gave a platform to an oft-disenfranchised group.

#BringBackOurGirls, for better or worse, doesn't fit neatly into either category. It was started by Nigerians, but co-opted by outsiders. You can argue that it's lazy, but you can also argue that it's doing good. In the days since #BringBackOurGirls began trending, the United States, United Kingdom and France have all promised to aid Nigeria in its search for the girls; the U.S. alone will send a team of logistics and communications experts within the next few days.

Hashtag activism deserves our skepticism and vigilance; there is, clearly, plenty of room for critique. But it's neither fair nor particularly wise to dismiss the phenomenon out of hand. Maybe writer and actress Clarke Wolfe's reply to Teju Cole says it best: "Shaming people for awareness, even if it comes from a #, simplifies everything and also solves nothing (thanks)."

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • wd saturday tobias .jpg Stranger’s generosity stuns Ohio veteran

    Vietnam War veteran David A. Tobias was overwhelmed recently when a fellow customer at an OfficeMax store near Ashtabula, Ohio paid for a computer he was purchasing.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 1.33.11 PM.png VIDEO: High-dive accident caught on tape

    A woman at a water park in Idaho leaped off a 22-foot high dive platform, then tried to pull herself back up with frightening results. Fortunately, she escaped with only a cut to her finger.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 25, 2014

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 25, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Arizona's prolonged lethal injection is fourth in U.S. this year

    Arizona's execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.3

    July 24, 2014

  • Police Brutality screen shot. Technology plays key part in battling police brutality (VIDEO)

    Allegations of police brutality are nothing new -- as long as there has been law enforcement, citizens have registered claims that some officers cross the line. But in the last few years, the claims of excessive force are being corroborated with new technology from cell phone cameras, police dash-cams and surveillance videos. 

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

  • Has the ipad lost its swag?

    July 24, 2014

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 23, 2014

  • Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates

    On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65.

    July 23, 2014