Hashtag Activism: I Don’t Want Your Prayers
On October 2nd, 2017, #prayforvegas became the third most popular used hashtag on Twitter, trending worldwide. Citizens, celebrities, and politicians from both sides of the aisle sent their thoughts and prayers to those affected by Vegas, but is this really enough? By October 3rd, the hashtag had already dropped to position 45. Although hashtags may bring attention to some important issues, the quick loss of attention demonstrates the fleeting effect of this type of activism. Despite the immediate awareness hashtags may bring to tragedies, the idea that simply wishing the best is considered a type of activism is preposterous. Rather than posting their grievances, people should post about what they are doing to combat the tragedy, how their followers can give back, and use the event as a platform to start a dialogue about ideas to solve the problem.
“Hashtag activism is one aspect of action, but action should really be about taking it to the next level as well,” said Director of Global Programs and Community Engagement, Tene Howard. Recognizing its faults, Ms. Howard continues, saying that she believes hashtag activism is “an important educational tool for getting people initial knowledge… generally, I find it more positive.” Like Ms. Howard, many are of the opinion that the benefits of the awareness hashtags bring outweigh the negatives. The issue with this school of thought is its failure to recognize the type of awareness it brings. Instead of deepening our emotional connection to the people affected by a tragedy, posting on social media desensitizes us. The reason for this is that every time a tragedy strikes, we are now accustomed to sharing our thoughts. Rather than sharing an insight or new perspective which could potentially prompt action, most share surface level thoughts. Many celebrities exhibit this, which sets a negative example for the general public. “OH MY GOD. i’m heartbroken for the victims in las vegas, for their families… i’m so shook,” tweeted singer Christina Perri in response to the largest mass shooting in US history. Such basic responses to such monumental events are not only insensitive, but insinuate that what happened is normal, and thus warrants a standard response. The idea that because these occurrences are common they should be accepted as normal is preposterous. When tragedies are reduced to normality, we lose empathy for others, and thus our motivation to create change.
Although posting your thoughts on social media about a tragedy can be detrimental to the prevention of said tragedy, hashtag activism is not inherently immoral or useless. Posts on social media can be used to prompt others to create change if they contain ideas about how to solve the problem. A perfect example of this is Senator Bernie Sanders’ appropriate and effective response to the Vegas shootings through social media. After wishing the families and friends of the victims his condolences, Sanders went on to make the powerful statement that “there have been more mass shootings than days this year. It is long, long overdue for Congress to take action on gun safety.” In addition to showing his support for the victims, Sanders offers a solution to prevent events like this from happening, creating the potential for change.
With two-thirds of Americans getting at least a portion of their news from social media, it is the responsibility of the informed public to educate others with more than rudimentary ideology. Yes, you are allowed to mourn. Yes, you are entitled to freedom of speech. Yes, a tragedy is sad. But no, your thoughts and prayers will not change anything. If you are truly devastated, use your voice to prevent the next tragedy, not as an excuse to get a few likes.