In a day and age as deeply involved in technology as this one, social justice movements have largely taken to social media outlets like Twitter. There are key exceptions, of course, such as the recent Ferguson protests, but "hashtag activism" has risen to the forefront of many movements in the past few years. This new form of social protest has been the source of lots of controversy.
Though it has been met with much criticism regarding the discrepancies between awareness and true activism that can affect legal and social change, hashtag activism is now an integral part of social media that has done its part to spark change in many instances. In 2012, the hashtag #standwithPP was the first of these. After the Susan G. Komen Foundation decided to stop its annual funding to Planned Parenthood for breast exams and mammograms, #standwithPP took less than a week to produce hundreds of thousands of tweets, draw the attention of the media and the foundation and restore funding to Planned Parenthood.
In 2014, several iconic hashtags have taken social media and social justice movements by storm and undeniably served as a sort of timeline of this year's history. Whether they're examples of "slacktivism" or a real call to action, however, is up to you.
In April, the extremist Muslim group Boko Haram attacked an all-girls boarding school in Nigeria. The group, whose name means "Western education is a sin" in the Hausa language according to the New York Times, burned the school to the ground and kidnapped hundreds of female students, all aged 15 to 18. Though about 50 of the girls escaped, the other 276 were being auctioned off as wives for $12 each. Relatives and loved ones of these girls were desperate to have them back and safe, and when the Nigerian government pursued minimal action, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls began trending and gained worldwide momentum very quickly on social media. Though it did result in many countries' promises to help Nigeria recover the missing girls and a huge wave of awareness, critics of hashtag activism still argue that it was a lazy attempt at raising interest for public attention.
In May, Elliot Rodger killed six people near the University of California-Santa Barbara to get revenge on the women who rejected him and "forced him to live 'an existence of loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires,'" according to TIME. In a series of extremely disturbing, misogynistic video blogs, Rodgers raved about his hatred for all women and said, "it's an injustice, it's a crime" that they didn't want him, "the supreme gentleman." The horrifying shooting rampage sparked the global use of the hashtag #YesAllWomen on Twitter to criticize how society teaches men to feel entitled to use and abuse women.
In these tweets, women discussed their experiences with disrespect, objectification, sexual harassment, abuse and assault by men, many to the effect of this one: "#YesAllWomen because ‘I have a boyfriend’ is more effective than ‘I’m not interested’--men respect other men more than my right to say no." This movement produced over 1 million tweets, and their personal reflections definitely sparked conversation about misogyny in today's society.
In October, following the stepping forward of nine women against Canadian Broadcasting Corporation host Jian Ghomeshi's sexual attacks on them and the start of the hashtag #IBelieveLucy in support of one such woman, Lucy DeCoutere, Toronto Star reporter Antonia Zerbisias started the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported. With this hashtag, women who had been raped but never reported it and women who had reported their rape but weren't believed came forward in solidarity to speak of their experiences. This movement trended on Twitter and, albeit heartbreaking, it gave many women the courage to come forward about their attack and give real-life insight about the horrors of sexual assault to men and women who had not been affected by it.
In November, Rolling Stone published a feature on a University of Virginia student named Jackie who was gang raped at a frat party. The article described the traumatizing event and the school's history of unreported sexual assault and party reputation, but also stated that their faith in Jackie, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after her attack, was "misplaced" because some of the facts she gave when recounting the story did not line up with other information they gathered. This gave way to the hashtag #IStandWithJackie, in which both men and women publicly supported Jackie, arguing that the trauma associated with rape often leads to flawed memory of the attack, and angrily addressed the way that the media and society address rape.
Created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin, a black male teenager, was murdered by white neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman and Zimmerman was acquitted, #BlackLivesMatter regained a massive response after the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri surrounding the murder of Michael Brown, and in New York with the Eric Garner decision. It is a social movement that is gaining strength across the world among people of all races.
This movement has extended beyond social media and taken to large protests in major cities and universities. #BlackLivesMatter argues that all black people have a right to equality and a right to live, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, class or disability, and the movement's website states that, "#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. We have put our sweat, equity and love for Black people into creating a political project--taking the hashtag off of social media and into the streets. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation."