Protests in the Digital Ether
Welcome to The Mantle's fifth virtual roundtable and the first one to feature all women. This forum provides an opportunity for emerging critics, activists, and writers to think deeply about and debate a very narrow topic. In the past we've asked writers, artists, and musicians to reflect on their roles in conflict zones, and we have also had young policy wonks interrogate the United Nations' doctrine on the Responsibility to Protect. For this round, we continue with the activist theme and ask practitioners to deliberate the utility of protesting not with signs or banners in the streets, but with hashtags in the digital ether.
Our International Affairs Editor Corrie Hulse moderates the discussion. She's joined by three women from around the world with varying experiences in policy and activist fields.
To follow the roundtable that asks, “What does hashtag activism mean for the future of global political movements?” see Corrie's introductory remarks below, then click each of the participants to read their essays and responses. At the bottom of this page you can read Corrie's concluding remarks.
- November 18, 2014
all illustrations by Illa Amudi
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The world has seen the rise of an emerging group of cyber-savvy and click-ready social activists who advocate for social change through the Internet using social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Twitter popularized the use of the “#” (i.e., the hashtag) to promote trending topics or in focus for others to notice. The use of the hashtag to promote a social cause is known as “hashtag activism.” A prime example of this tactic is the Nigerian-born campaign of #BringBackOurGirls. What does this case teach us about the effectiveness of this messaging tool?
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With the emergence of social media platforms and the growth of their globally active user bases in the last decade, “hashtag activism” has become a common tactic used in global social change movements. The hashtag itself serves as a data tag in advocating for a cause, linking the participants of a campaign across platforms through a concisely packaged, unified message. The practice of hashtag activism has gained both widespread media attention for shining a spotlight on issues, including gun control policy and human rights abuses, while also drawing criticism for its limitations.
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On April 14, 2014, almost 300 schoolgirls were abducted from a government school in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria. The world sat silently as the Nigerian Government sat on its hands. By the end of the month, fueled by reports that some of the girls may have been sold into marriage or slavery, the Nigerian-born hashtag #BringBackOurGirls gained international traction, becoming a global movement.