The 140 character activism- Hashtag as part of public awareness campaigns

Social media activism has at least since the political protest on Tahrir square in Egypt become an efficient tool for people to participate and contribute to an online media platform, thus creating own online communication channels to maintain the spirit of a revolution. As expressed in the article The revolution will be twittered: ´You cannnot stop people any longer. You cannot control them any longer. They bypass your established media, they can broadcast to one another, they can organize as never before. It may be true that the possibilities by social media platforms as Twitter can be of benefit for the civil society as the media of them and for them, but on the other hand four years after Tahrir the debate if there is a real power of social media in a revolution to change an existing system is ongoing and it does not seem there is any clear answer if yes or no.

It may be courageous to proclaim that only social media have helped revolutions like in Tahrir, rather it must have more been an interplay of more factors. But what social media activism shows is that Twitter or other social media networks can accelarate the effects of such protests and serve as models for further activism on Twitter. For many media activists the hashtags can be a way of how to draw attention to any important issue that may be neglected or downplayed by traditional media. The use of  hashtags on Twitter may be created to raise public awareness about any current issue in the world.

In the last year we could wittness many of these kind of Twitter activism via hashtags that have gone very viral. The #Ferguson was a parallel reaction to the protests in the USA about the jury decision in the Michael Brown case shooting by a police officer that lead to Michael Brown´s death. The initial hashtag further in days transformed into #blacklivesmatter and other related hashtags, that focused on raising awareness or stir the discussion over police treatment of African-Americans. According to some author´s it was Twitter that in case of Fergusson put a light on the issue, that may have otherwise been downplayed or even forgotten. Moreover as said by Desmond-Harris from Vox the hashtag virality put the issue on media agenda: ´Twitter, Instagram, and Vine have given McKesson and others without existing platforms or influential contacts a tool to transform age-old racial justice issues into major national news´. The same year we saw another Twitter action to raise the agenda of what the world is talking about. The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag was there to virtually stir the debate about the return of the kidnapped Nigerian girls or to create more pressure on official bodies to take steps to free the girls. This hashtag campaign became so viral, that even the first lady Michelle Obama has been seen to support it as well as many other famous people and celebrities.

These and many other even current examples like the hashtag for the major earthquake in Nepal show that when we focus on activism on Twitter there really is something called as ´hashtag activism´- the essence of 140 characters to spurt public debates and awareness campaigns. According to Phillip Howard from the Digital Activism Research Project the ´hashtag activism´ can also be described as ´…what happens when someone tries to raise public awareness of a political issue using some clever or bitting keyword on social media´. The itself power of these kind of campaign like the online revolution debates are quit interlinked and seem to have the same dillemas, about whether such campaigns using hashtags can actually bring a real change or if they are just civic or public PR tools to support a cause or an issue, but the actual happening should come not from an online world but from real life policies and actions. But one way or another the ´hashtag activism´ as the latest form of online activism is I think about to stay to let people participate and make them part of the online activism movement.

Reference:

´Hashtag Activism: What does it mean for the public sphere´ In Talking Politics, accessed at: https://talkingpoliticsjomc.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/hashtag-activism-what-does-it-mean-for-the-public-sphere/

Sullivan, A. (2009) “The Revolution will be Twitted”, The Atlantic, accessed at: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/print/2009/06/the-revolution-will-be-twittered/200478/

https://twitter.com/flotus/status/464148654354628608