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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Internet Explorer: Activism in social media


Igarcia_opn light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, many have taken to social media to pay tribute to the fallen victims and express sorrow for the city. Like many people, I found out about the tragedy through Facebook. Shortly after the attacks, the site made a photo filter of the French flag available for users to superimpose over their profile pictures as a declaration of solidarity. It’s an act of compassion. We lament that the City of Love could see such cruelty.

But are our online expressions of solidarity really a form of activism? Within its very name, activism indicates action. Yet the term ‘hashtag activism’ implies that even the passive act of typing on a keyboard is equivalent to standing up to social injustice. That being said, I don’t mean to speak harshly about activism on social media, and I especially don’t discredit feelings of compassion as being shallow or meaningless. I just want to critically consider both sides of the debate before I arrive at any conclusion about whether social media is a propellor or antagonist to activism.

I see hashtag activism every time when I log onto my Facebook account. I see how shared links, images and hashtagged movements like #BlackLivesMatter, and #HeForShe have been popularized by social media sites.The hashtags are harmless in that they spread awareness of deplorable acts and social injustices that persist in modern society. However, critics have deemed hashtag activism as a form of ‘slacktivism.’

Chris Wallace, George Will and Brit Hume of Fox News noted that hashtag activism was a “useless exercise in self esteem.”

“I do not know how adults stand there, facing a camera, and say, ‘Bring back our girls,’” Will said. “Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Uh oh, Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behavior?’”

Critics of hashtag activism charge that its ease could lead to overuse and public fatigue. They say that in the worst, most extreme cases, it may even desensitize the public to acts of violence and injustice.

But the Internet’s version of activism is more equivalent to an organized protest on a larger scale. Those who demean hashtag activism can say, ‘But you’re not really doing anything!’ Well, to those people, I would respond, ‘Well, what would you do?’

What can we do? Most of us don’t hold positions of power to make executive decisions. But we can avoid being idle bystanders. Social media and hashtagging have encouraged us to express our opinions. I would go as far as to say that these features pressure us to have convictions about very critical issues. This could be dangerous given that 64 percent of U.S. adults use social media sites — namely Facebook — to get their daily dose of news. Many online sources are politically biased and often deal in misinformation.

Overall, hashtag activism evokes action through sentiment. It gives us — constituents of the general public — a role to play by offering us a chance to express our opinions. It’s not like the issues don’t affect us. By hashtagging a cause on our social media platforms, we are identifying ourselves with it. While many critique social media for dehumanizing relationships, the Parisian attacks have shown us that the medium allows us to reach out in sympathy. And, small as it may be, that is one of the most humane acts of all.

You can reach Jazmin García at msjgarcia@ucdavis.edu


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