What Hashtag Activism Does Wrong

Anger and activism in the united States comes in waves and hashtags. There has been #BringBackOurGirls, #JusticeforTrayvon, #DontShoot, #PrayForFerguson, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and others. I understand that these hashtags help promote and spread awareness for a cause, however it is doing the exact opposite in some situations; this type of hashtag activism is only good for a few weeks. During my last article, I mentioned the death of Mike Brown and this case also paints another interesting light. When people first heard about the shooting back in August, there were multiple facebook, tumblr, and twitter posts. It was all over the news and social media. People were outraged. Five weeks later, there is a lot less anger, activism, or even talking about the situation. It is getting harder to find updates. This happens a LOT in social media, but it comes more often when black lives are at stake.
#BringBackOurGirls started with the kidnapping of over two hundred Nigerian girls on April 14, 2014 by Boko Haram. It has been five months since this horrendous kidnasping and despite what our hashtags say, not much has actually been done about it. Huffington Post reports that fifty-seven of the kidnapped girls escaped, but that none of the other girls have been rescued, even though potential sightings have happened in the area. Since May, I personally have not seen anyone mention #BringBackOurGirls until one of the girls ws reported to have escaped from the kidnappers.
Similarly to #BringBackGirls, #JusticeforTrayvon was aimed at receiving justice. This justice was for teen Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed in Florida in 2012. His killer, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty by claiming to act in self-defense. The problem with this case is that Zimmerman — who was also a neighborhood watch captain — was originally told not to exit his vehicle or approach the problem, yet he disregarded this information and proceeded to fatally shoot Martin.
Now, we have #justice4Mike, #PrayforFergson, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and #dontshoot, which again alludes to the fatal shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson in the beginning of August. #Jusstice4Mike, #prayforFerguson, and #dontshoot were the main ones being used. These hashtags have lost power just as quickly as the others have. There have been less circulation of these ideas and therefore, getting a lesser and lesser amount of people involved.
In a lot of these situations, a hashtag will not change much except to unify the community. In the Mike Brown case, the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown was suposed to be a way that they unified the African American community and show what typically happens to black youth in media, but it was turned into a mockery. As mentioned in my previous article, those things include slander, unsmiling pictures, and pictures using violent or threatening looking facial expressions or gestures as opposed to pictures with loved ones.
When the hashtag first started, African American people, especially the youth took this hashtag seriously and made comparison pictures. However, when Caucasian people in American saw this, they tried to use the hashtag as well, even though the hashtag does not apply to them considering whenever a white person is killed unfairly, the media typically uses the sweetest picture like a high school yearbook photo, or pictures with family and friends. The white people using #IfTheyGunnedMeDown were seen as rude and inconsiderate of the damage they were doing by using that hashtag.
The decisions or circumstances in these events have already been determined and cannot be changed. I understand that it can help those who feel like they can’t do any feel like they are helping by spreading awareness and spreading awareness can help, but there are two questions that should be asked about using hashtags: how much can it really do for the situation you are trying to raise awareness for, and can it backfire?

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Ashley Elizabeth

Ashley Elizabeth (she/her) is a writing consultant, teacher, and poet. Her works have appeared in SWWIM, Rigorous, Mineral Lit, Sante Fe Writer Project, Knights Library, and Kahini Quarterly, among others. In June 2020, Ashley was the featured writer at Drunk Monkeys. She is also the author of the chapbook, you were supposed to be a friend (Nightingale & Sparrow). When Ashley isn't serving as assistant editor at Sundress Publications or working as a member of the Estuary Collective, she habitually posts on Twitter and Instagram (@ae_thepoet). She lives in Baltimore, MD with her partner and their cat. Once COVID is over, they plan on going on a foodie road trip.

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