The fact that I’m writing this article is a testament to how far technology has become involved with our lives. 20 years ago people would have referred to ‘hash’ as that button on their block phones, or the legendary hashbrown (still is). However now, the hashtag has revolutionized the way we communicate about world issues. World issues are serious issues that affect real people in the real world. So how has typing your opinion on social media become an important role in advocating world problems? Is the #hashtag movement a call for the new generation of discussion, or is it rather, a call in only discussion and no action?
An important advantage of hashtag activism is the ability to increase awareness about global issues. As social media allows us to connect with people from around the world, advocating an issue can be done with a click of a button. A notable example is #ALSIceBucketChallenge which involved participants pouring ice water on themselves to increase awareness of Motor Neuron Disease. This hashtag campaign spread awareness about the disease and how there is ongoing research for the causes and for a cure. Additionally, the #ALSIceBucketChallenge generated an increase of donations for many ALS organizations to research the disease with approximately US$220 million donated in 2014. The #ALSIceBucketChallenge encompasses the power of social media in spreading awareness of what would have been a lesser-known health issue, and to instead, increase charitable donation and awareness worldwide. The power of hashtags allows us to advocate these issues to our community so they are informed and aware of how they can take-part at any level and contribute.
Another advantage of hashtag activism is the inspiration to create change, and to discuss important ideas with others. A hashtag that is close to home yet encapsulates values that are universal is seen through #iwillridewithyou. This hashtag sparked discussion after the siege in the Lindt café in Sydney, as there were reports of Australian Muslims fearing to ride public transport in Australia. The hashtag allowed people to pledge their support to ride public transport with those who wear religious attire, to help them not fear racism in public. This great campaign created a sense of unity around Australia, as Australian Muslims felt safer in their community as Mr Malas states in an ABC interview “it’s very positive and just makes you feel you are not alone in this”. The hashtag #iwillridewithyou illustrates how a community who may feel divided and disadvantaged can instead unite and create a more harmonious Australia. Additionally, #iwillridewithyou has sparked online discussion about why this is an important issue and how racism by the few is not tolerated in our multicultural society. It is evident that hashtag activism in the technological world, can pledge our support and drive for positive change in the real world.
However, in light of these positives there are certain limitations that should be noted, one of which is how successful outcomes from hashtag activism is not guaranteed. For example #BringBackOurGirls was formed after the abduction of 276 school girls by a Boko Haram-led militant Islamist group in Nigeria. It is believed that the girls were abducted for forced sex slavery, a horrendous issue that is becoming prominent in marginal areas. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was recognized by well known figures such as U.S First Lady Michelle Obama, who assisted in driving more awareness of the issue. However two years later many of the girls are still missing, resulting in increased pressure for International Governmental organizations to undertake appropriate action, and further increase funding for school programs in Nigeria. Another movement that highlights failed elements of hashtag activism is #Kony2012. This hashtag was used to raise awareness about a violent militant movement led by Joseph Kony, who was known to use child soldiers in Uganda. Although this sparked discussion in 2012 and campaign videos were seen millions of time, Kony is still currently free. Many say that the #Kony2012 campaign was one that was too focused on making impactful films, rather than finding practical solutions. What does this say about hashtag activism? Is it really making a difference in solving world issues?
These are just a few points about hashtag activism and its role in discussing world issues, but there is also intensive research conducted by many so do check it out. Hashtag movements have the ability to spark much needed discussion around the world. Although, are we so congested in social media that we dismiss taking further action in real life? Would we rather advocate behind the safety of our screens? Whether you believe the #hashtag movement is effective or not, it is certainly becoming a point of discussion and will continue to be so in the future.