Social Activism or Self Promotion?

Hash tag activism is the latest buzzword forged in the wake of the geopolitical flashpoint surrounding the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria by Muslim extremists. Social activists are claiming that creating the hash tag puts the issue before the people and could—emphasis on could—motivate the Nigerian government to do something to facilitate the release of the students. Many people, on the other hand, feel that the celebrity promotion of the hash tag is nothing more than grandstanding and ineffective in the long run of doing anything to help the victims and serves only to promote the celebrity in question.

The Nigerian government has been woefully inattentive to the plight of the kidnap victims, despite the kidnappers posting videos of the girls recanting Christianity. The media in the US did not spend a lot of time covering the issue, nor did the rest of the world. It was only once family members in Nigeria created the hash tag and saturated social media with it did it become a trending topic that garnered the attention of an ADHD world.

For the uninitiated, a hash tag is a social media tool originated by the social site Twitter and now used in almost all forms of social media. It is a way of discovering messages about a specific topic by using the keyboard pound symbol (#) in front of a simple word or phrase written together with no spaces. Some people make status updates that are nothing but a hash tag that is 140 characters long, which can be difficult to decipher.

It became fashionable to pose in a selfie with the kidnapped girls’ hash tag featured proximately in the picture, even to the point that first lady Michelle Obama had the Whitehouse photographer take a picture of her in the Whitehouse posing with a hand-scrawled sign (probably done by the Whitehouse calligrapher) touting the hash tag. Other celebrities followed suit and now the selfie itself is a trending topic. There are those who think that this is the key to motivating change in the world.

There are also those who decry this kind of promotion as pointless. A marine took a selfie with a sign saying that a military intervention is the only way to secure the release of the hostages, parodying the hash tag theme. Bill O’Rielly has spoken out against the first lady and others who promote the hash tag as being nothing more than self-serving self promotion, designed to do nothing more than make the famous seem concerned and interested in the plight of the unfortunate.

They are both right.

Those celebrities who pose with the hash tag signs are doing nothing more than bolstering their own image in the name of a “greater good,” and are no better than those who flock to disaster areas for photo ops showing their good deeds. These celebrities could keep the hash tag trending by simply retweeting it without the selfie, but they don’t. They have to photo bomb the hash tag to keep themselves prominent.

But the hash tag is doing some good. Public awareness by itself is a pointless goal, to be certain. That people know about varies issues does nothing to resolve the issues. Awareness driven action, on the other hand, can accomplish something. The Arab Spring is proof that social media can drive people to do something about social issues, even if it does not have immediate, tangible results. The Nigerian government has indicated a greater willingness (for whatever that’s worth) to take more action on the issue.

I, like many people, get frustrated having these issues drilled into my consciousness at every waking moment by both the regular and social media. My Facebook feed gets littered with cries to keep the hash tag issue of the day going (as well as way too many requests to like this cute kitten or like the poor unfortunate person who lost everything in a disaster or the long-lost soul looking for birth parents) and twitter keeps chirping and my mailbox blows up. Add the news covering these “trending issues” and my tolerance for hash tagging—never real high to begin with—drops to non-existent.

I tweet, I blog and I update Facebook. Since I am social media savvy, I not only know how to use hash tags, I actually use them quite regularly; just not to the extent of those who do nothing but hash tag. No one, however, will see me holding a sign promoting a social issue hash tag—unless it’s about me.

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Filed under Media, Politics, Religion, Society

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