The hashtag used to be just a number or pound sign (and for musicians, a half-step note raise), but during this age of information technology, it takes on the completely new task of highlighting special meaning. In the late 20th century, the number sign was used in programming to indicate keywords. Chris Messina, co-founder of Citizen Agency, proposed using hashtags on Twitter to tag topics of interest. Since July 2009, Twitter began hyperlinking hashtags in tweets and ever since, the hashtag has been used to group ideas together, spotlight trending topics and, perhaps most powerfully, capture entire movements.
Hashtag Activism, as it’s called by media outlets, refers to internet activism through Twitter’s hashtags. Over the years, they’ve both captured and stirred up controversy. From Occupy Wall Street to Kony 2012, hashtag activism brought big issues right underneath our noses. It also raised a lot of eyebrows as a potential form of “slacktivism.” Regardless of the exact impact, since anyone with a social media account–Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.–can make use of it, the hashtag’s power is unlimitless. Here’s a look into some of the bigger hashtag movements that have emerged in 2014.
#YesAllDaughters Nov. 20, 2014: Several students at Norman High School in Norman, Okla. have marched in silent protest over the school district’s recently handling of alleged student rape cases. The protesting students are acting on behalf of three Norman High Students. The hashtag’s Facebook page’s description says “Victimization doesn’t discriminate. It could be your daughter. She is ALL our DAUGHTERS.”
#Hokolorob Sept. 2014: “Let there be noise.” Students in Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India protested the administration’s handling of a female student’s molestation complaint. Originally supposed to be a peaceful protest, the movement captured headlines as police used force on the students, including charges of baton usage. In October the students continued to demand the resignation of Vice-Chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti, despite his four-year appointment from the Governor of West Bengal.
#HearThisWell Aug. 27, 2014: CNN aired a segment with three anchors citing 67 studies displaying that vaccines did not cause autism or other types of injuries. Polly Tommey started the #HearThisWell movement in response to CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen’s statement that vaccines are safe. Her campaign features a YouTube channel through which parents can upload their stories about their children’s ‘vaccine-induced autism.’
#YesAllWomen May 2014: The #YesAllWomen hashtag took off on Twitter after the 2014 Isla Vista killings, carried out by Elliot Rodger. Rodger, who killed six and wounded 13 others, blamed the “cruelness of women” in his digital footprint. The hashtag aims to describe what all women must fear, even if “not all men” are at the root of these problems.
#BringBackOurGirls April 15, 2014: Boko Haram, Nigeria’s militant Islamist group, kidnapped over 270 school girls, sparking worldwide outrage to bring them back home. Since the abduction, Boko Haram released a video of the entrapped girls, and according to the New York Times, the group plans to auction them off as wives at $12 each. Despite international attempts and even a potential deal to release the girls, leader Abubakar Shekau denies reports of any ceasefire, and says the girls have since converted to Islam and are now married off.
#CancelColbert Mar. 27, 2014: Stephen Colbert ran a segment satirizing Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, who announced he was starting a foundation for Native Americans in response to complaints about his team’s name. The Colbert Report’s Twitter tweeted “”I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever” as a continuation of the joke. The tweet sparked backlash, most notably from Suey Park, who previously started her own hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick. Colbert later responded, hoping to clear the distinction between his personal account and his show’s account.
While this compilation is by no means comprehensive, it demonstrates the undeniable presence of hashtag activism in our society. The consequences, if even fully comprehendible, will continue to pervade both on and offline.