2017 was a year full of hashtags and havoc, as we’ve seen the correlation between social media and social issues thicken. With Trump’s presidency and the following consequences, many have taken to Twitter to express their opinions and beliefs, neglecting the old-fashioned journalism that many may have been used to. For the first time ever, social media was used as a medium, a news outlet and a way to follow what’s going on in the world. Despite it perhaps being full of “alternative facts” and “fake news” the diversity of opinion is what has made Twitter and social media so enticing. With the press of a #hashtag, you can let the whole world know your uncensored and unfiltered opinion of everything happening around you.
As a professional, self-proclaimed internet archeologist, I’ve done some sleuthing around and found that the hashtag goes all the way back to August of 2007, roughly a year and a half after Twitter was launched. If you don’t remember the state of this world in 2007 (I myself was only 5) let me take you back. Obama was running his presidential campaign, the iPhone was introduced to the world, Britney Spears had a public mental breakdown, and ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ was conceived. 2007 truly was an era of change, and contrary to what Kylie Jenner thinks, 2007 was actually the year of “like, realizing things”. 2007 was also the year “the pound” became the hashtag, and here is its miraculous conception.
The hashtag, or at least the way we use it now, was created by Chris Messina, a social media innovator, who wanted to use it as a way for people to discuss the events and happenings of a global technology conference. Funny, because he’s always been a social media innovator and he definitely innovated social media by introducing the Twitterverse to the Hashtag (whether it was intentional or not). Little did he know the effect this would have.
Now, many movements, allies of movements, news networks, regular people and Twitter trolls have adopted using these hashtags to connect and keep up with what people may be thinking in regards to the context of that hashtag. Whether it’s #BlackLivesMatter, #FlintMichigan, #PrayFor[place] or #[insert problematic celebrity]IsOverParty. Hashtags have been great in terms of the fact that it’s so easy to connect and find other people discussing the same things you are or tweeting about things you care about, however they have taken away from the substance of movements and revolutions. They have made the biggest issues and turned them into a “trending topic” that you feel like you must discuss in 140 characters or less in order to feel relevant. You cannot degrade a whole movement, a whole problem, that people have died for, fought for and felt the negative effects of into just 140 characters, or one hashtag that trends for just 24 hours because problems don’t last only 24 hours.
The issue at core with hashtagging issues in societies is that it makes them seem temporary, as if once they stop trending, the problem at hand has been resolved, and unfortunately that is just not true.
#BlackLivesMatter cannot just trend for a couple of hours, because Black Lives Matter is not a trend or some embellishment for your twitter feed to gain a couple of followers, be crowned as woke and feel like your contributing to the demise of racism and discrimination that people of color have always felt and still continue to not only feel but see the physical effects of. Yes, tweeting about it will raise awareness, it’ll open up the door for interesting conversations, but the meat of the people tweeting #BlackLivesMatter don’t really care. At least not enough to remember it before it trends again. Remember Flint, Michigan and the water crisis? Yeah, I hope you do because as it turns out, they’re still having a water crisis. Surprising, right? Problems don’t finish once you stop tweeting about them. For some people, it’s been a hell of a reality but you wouldn’t know because it doesn’t trend on twitter every day. And, oh yeah remember the constant #[insert name]IsOverParty, which has taken up all of the summer. It’s great that we’re exposing problematic people, but just because it stops trending doesn’t mean we forget what they’ve done and the fact they are still problematic, especially if they ignore what they’ve done and don’t step up by discussing it.
I’m not gonna lie and say that I have never forgotten about anything because it stopped trending on twitter. It happens to most of us. But this culture of “temporary revolt” has to stop, and if you really wanna be “woke”, then act like it. Don’t just sleep on an issue because Lena Dunham stopped tweeting about it, or the thousands of people you follow haven’t said a word about it. If anything, this hashtag culture has just proven that actions speak louder than words. Of course, I understand not everyone has the time or is physically able to rally with BLM, and then protest at Standing Rock all whilst starting a riot against Donald Trump, but at least use your voices and your social medias to keep on discussing these issues and most importantly, possible solutions. Let’s stop making injustices into 24-hour twitter trends. Let’s stop degrading these issues and let’s stop letting the popularity of a movement define it. If there’s a movement that social media or the world is just neglecting then speak of it. Keep speaking of it, and if you can, try to contribute physically but never let it die down. Hashtags should not be able to control which issues we deem are important enough to focus on for that day, and hashtags should never ever tell you a problem is over when it no longer is important enough for the Twitterverse to discuss.
I love social media and all that it has done for us. A few years ago, every hashtag brought me closer to the person I am today. A person that sees social injustice and feels passionate about discussing it and finding solutions. A person who although still may remain ignorant in some areas, tries to fight that ignorance and learn about the issues certain people or parts of the world are facing, and I hope hashtags do for others what it did for me. Enlighten me. Educate me. Encourage me. But at the end of the day, it’s social media, people want likes, people want praise, people want to paint themselves as “woke” and so they’ll tweet, retweet and like and then they’ll forget about it until something bad happens again. We cannot let hashtags and twitter limit us to what we know or what we care about because that in itself is a very un-woke thing to do. Some things will trend and others will not, as people of the social media era we need to give attention to the inconvenient truths, the horrific messes, and the issues hashtags neglect.
Continue tweeting and discussing, but remember if you want to contribute to an issue continuously discuss it, and never forget it, regardless of what others and Twitter thinks deserves your attention.