Occasionally I like to crowd-source an answer to a question here at Slaw as I appreciate the insight and experience that Slaw-yers bring to the table. Today is one of those times when I have such a question that I have been turning over in my mind. Before I pose my question I want to state that I ask it in all earnestness; I also want to preface my question by stating that I am a huge fan and user of Twitter, it is currently one of my top current awareness tools. That being said one thing bothers me a bit and that is the hashtag for social issues. My question is, does it really accomplish anything? Other than Twitteratti get to feel good about themselves by contributing 140 characters to a social cause.

A specific example would be Twitter reaction to the heinous act of kidnapping 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, my question is does #saveourgirls really accomplish anything? And I’ll grant you that some level of awareness is promoted through the use of a hashtag and for a grass roots type of issue the use of a hashtag to raise awareness does accomplish something tangible. But for an issue such as the kidnapping of these girls one could argue that the awareness level is already at a significantly high level. So beyond that what does #saveourgirls accomplish?

Another example would be #FreeAJStaff, what does that accomplish? I would wager that it is not placing pressure on the Egyptian government and the awareness level is already at a high level, so #FreeAJStaff accomplishes what?

I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon, I’m just wondering what is being accomplished by the use of the hashtag in these circumstances. I get the awareness aspect of grass roots issues and I get the fund raising utility of something like #Letstalk or #MyIWK which are interesting and worthwhile uses of social media. But it seems to me that hastagging these larger issues that have saturation level awareness is simply a way for people to feel like they have contributed something tangible to a larger cause when they really have not. I’m more than happy to be convinced otherwise.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slacktivism

    I’d also argue that the roots of slactivism started well before social media, when an idea took hold that awareness was as important as real work. I saw it in areas as diverse as environmentalism, fighting cancer, and human rights – where the idea took hold that it didn’t matter if you actually were making things better as long as you were raising awareness of the issue.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to change my twitter avatar for 24 hours to protest a guy shooting a triceratops in Africa.

  2. Is the complaint that using the hashtag when one has nothing seriously constructive to add to the problem described just bogs down the Twitter discussion with low-value content? So if someone wanted to see what people on Twitter were saying about the issues you mention, or others, and they use the hashtags, they will have to wade through the drivel to find the gems?

    Is that really a hashtag issue? Or does it require people spouting off on Twitter to have the taste, restraint and judgment to exclude their thoughts from ‘serious’ discussion threads? How does one know ahead of time which hashtags mark the serious discussion threads, so one can refrain from using them unless one considers one’s thoughts worth being read by ‘serious’ people?

    Maybe I’m missing something, as a very infrequent user of Twitter…

  3. All in all, I agree that hashtags may simply be a way for people to feel like they have contributed something tangible to a larger cause when they really have not.

    However, it is important to understand the purpose of hashtags. The purpose of hashtags is to allow users to be able to search related tweets based on said hashtags – that is it. Giving hashtags a larger purpose than they really provide, such as thinking they were designed as some sort of social activism tool, is an argument that is based on a misunderstanding of the scope of the topic’s purpose itself.

    Don’t give hashtags are larger purpose than what they provide, and then argue against that false purpose.