#BringBackOurGirls #BlackLivesMatter #ICantBreathe #WheresHony #YourHashtagsAreUseless #OrAreThey?
We’ve seen it play out so many times already. Something goes down and then its popularity on twitter goes up. A grand jury decides the man that shot Michael Brown isn’t guilty and the nation is united through three words attached to a pawn sign. A massive group of school girls were kidnapped in Nigeria last year and even our First Lady hopped on the hashtag activism bandwagon.
I recently read an article on the site Compare Afrique in which an administrator addressed the issues in Nigeria and the insane spread of #BringOurGirlsBack. The first paragraph states, “Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria.” The article goes on to explain how the hashtag craze is useless and possibly harmful. “When you pressure Western powers, particularly the American government to get involved in African affairs and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem. You become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa. This is not good.” After this, statistics and facts are whipped out, showing America’s involvement (which many considered failed and useless) with Africa. Remember back in 2012 when everyone was searching for Kony? Since then, over 100 American troops have been sent to search for him and HE HAS YET TO BE FOUND.
[The full Compare Afrique article can be found here: http://www.compareafrique.com/dear-americans-hashtags-wont-bringbackourgirls-might-actually-making-things-worse/ ]
Since we are on the topic of Kony, I want to describe my reaction to that event in history. I was a Senior in high school, didn’t pay much attention to the news but I received endless encouragement from my peers to tweet #KONY2012. I did it. Without knowing who the heck Kony was, or why any of us were looking for him, I used the hashtag. I wanted a t-shirt, I considered buying the bumper sticker and yet I still had little to no clue of what exactly the situation was. I was ignorant. This is the main idea of this post. I write this out because I do not want readers to think that I am focusing on these African issues and how we should or should not be involved. I am writing this to express how I’ve discovered that Hashtag Activism makes us feel like we’re doing something when (for the most part) WE ARE DOING NOTHING.
Hashtags work to connect people across the globe but can also serve as the instigators of conflict. When the verdicts of both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner case were revealed, it became absolutely impossible to escape the rants on facebook. We all have that friend who made themselves a judge and attacked someone who didn’t acknowledge the incident on social media, or the other friend who was pissed because some were using #AllLivesMatter rather than #BlackLivesMatter. The media response to the events was incredible and did unite many but it also broke us. Our desire to appear intelligent may have lead to an arrogance that made us feel as if we were entitled to criticize the media involvement of others, leading to unfriending people on facebook and in person. The most crucial necessity to fight the injustice brought by these two verdicts is unity and how is attacking one another on the internet uniting us? Those who felt their voice wasn’t being heard continued to put up statuses over and over again explaining why they will not stand down. I’m sorry, but sitting behind a computer screen (as I am right now) is just as useless as standing down if you’re not taking actions.
Hashtag activism makes us feel like better people while turning us into ignorant and uneducated members of our society.It is an excuse to not thoroughly educate ourselves about the issues and think that we actually made a difference by taking a selfie with a sign. I’m not saying this is the case for all of us. Hashtags do encourage some people to research what’s going, in several cases, it spreads (a very general) awareness. But the majority of us hop onto the bandwagon of “sacrificing” some of our 140 characters on Twitter and calling it a day. Reading Kim Kardashian’s meme on Instagram does not mean I am educated about the girls in Nigeria. Just because I know a few numbers does not qualify me to inform others. There is so much more to the subject that I am still trying to grasp, almost a year later. This is why I refuse to “fight” with my hashtags. Is Kim in Africa right now, working on ways to find those little girls? Is it even possible for her to help those little girls? The answer is no. She simply encouraged her 14 million followers to “double tap” for support. This is the case for several celebrities. With their spotlight, they are expected to assist certain causes and many of them do so with the minimum effort of tweeting a hashtag.
The use of hashtags can spread awareness. It can bring a community together and encourage prayers for the group of children taken to heaven far too early last year. It can help Venezuela inform their neighbor countries of the support they need to fight the injustice they face. But hashtag activism and internet opinions should not be a substitute for actual activism. It should not be enough for us to feel satisfied with ourselves. It should not be done without being informed. It should not be done simply because everyone else, including Michelle Obama, is doing it.
Go beyond the popularity or timing of the hashtag. Venezuela still has some problems. Ukraine is still having a hard time. But we’re not worrying much about that because none of our social media is. We need to stop with the ignorance and trends and instead thoroughly educate ourselves on issues and what we should do to fix them. #DoSomeResearch, ya heard?