Rob Douglas: The power of hashtag activism

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On Fox News Sunday, during a discussion about the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram — a terrorist organization that, according to Wikipedia, “seeks to establish a ‘pure’ Islamic state ruled by sharia” — George Will and Brit Hume belittled the fact that first lady Michelle Obama had used hashtag activism to express her support for the missing girls.

Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

Chris Wallace (show host): “This week, Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai joined the Bring Back Our Girls movement. More than 2 million people have now tweeted the hashtag. And George I’m just curious, because I must say I was not that familiar with this phenomenon — it’s even got a name, hashtag activism — and I’m curious what you make of it. Do you think that this is significant and helpful and can make progress or do you think it’s really about helping the people who tweet the hashtag feel better about themselves?”

George Will: “Exactly that, it’s an exercise in self-esteem. I do not know how adults stand there facing a camera and say, ‘Bring back our girls.’ Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter account and say ‘Uh oh, Michelle Obama’s very cross with us, we better change our behavior?’”

Brit Hume (interjecting and laughing): “It’s trending! It’s trending on Twitter!”

Will: “Power is the ability to achieve intended effects and this is not intended to have any effect on the real world…”

The tweet in question reads, “Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It’s time to #BringBackOurGirls.” Attached to the tweet is a picture of Mrs. Obama standing in the White House holding a sign that proclaims, “#BringBackOurGirls”.

As an admirer of Will, Hume and Wallace, I’m sorry to say that the real world — at least when it comes to understanding the power of social media — has passed them by.

For the uninitiated, hashtag activism is defined by Techopedia as “the act of fighting for or supporting a cause that people are advocating through social media like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other networking websites. This is the kind of activism that does not require any action from the person other than sharing or ‘liking’ a post or ‘retweeting’ tweets on Twitter. The term gets its name from the liberal use of hashtags (#) that are often used to spread the word about a cause over Twitter.”

And while Techopedia also notes that hashtag activism has been criticized for the reason articulated by Will — effortless do-goodery — it correctly points out that “activist campaigns started over social media have been known to spread into real movements that created real change.”

The best example of social media’s power when it comes to “real movements that created real change” is the series of civilian uprisings that since 2010 has been toppling governments in North Africa and the Middle East like dominoes — the Arab Spring.

For the first time in history, citizens inside totalitarian countries instantly could broadcast acts of brutality and genocide by their government so that the world could witness the barbaric acts of those oppressive regimes.

From regions that are too dangerous or impenetrable for traditional journalists, citizen journalists with nothing more than a smartphone and a social media account can document their plight in posts and tweets that eventually reach millions of social media consumers around the world.

I still can recall a photograph on Twitter, in the early days of the Egyptian revolt, of citizens chasing a tank in a portion of Egypt the press couldn’t access. In their outstretched hands were camera-equipped smartphones, not guns. They were risking their lives to prove to the world that the soon-to-be overthrown government of President Hosni Mubarak was lying when it said that portion of the country was not under military assault.

That was the day I realized social media activism is real and has the “ability to achieve intended effects” — Will’s definition of power — in ways not imaginable even a decade ago.

Clearly Mrs. Obama, like a growing number of citizen activists around the world, understands the use of that power.

#BringBackOurGirls

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @RobDouglas3

Comments

Neil O'Keeffe 3 months, 1 week ago

Wow surprised and grateful that in spite of your fondness of Fox you didn't support the opinion of the "Old out of touch/angry white guys". Thanks!

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Dan Kuechenmeister 3 months, 1 week ago

Always the insults Neil. Really! George Will and Brit Hume"Old out of touch/angry white guys". Well, white - guilty, old - what's old in your definition, angry - not so much but then I suspect any one who disagrees with you may be considered angry. Looks like at one point in time President Clinton disagreed with you about Brit Hume. " At his last news conference as ABC's chief White House correspondent, President Clinton told him, "I think all of us think you have done an extraordinary, professional job under Republican and Democratic administrations alike."[8]

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Fred Duckels 3 months, 1 week ago

Neil. How about # get a job---#get a haircut-----#live within our means, maybe there is some sanity to be had here.

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Scott Wedel 3 months, 1 week ago

I find it deeply ironic that George Will and crew were willing to mock a hashtag trending on twitter as if their comments were any more relevant or influential. Their commentary was similar to "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain". They were saying twitter is so silly, but listen to us.

It was a commentary showing them to be out of touch, old media people. That they happen to also be old is hardly surprising.

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Neil O'Keeffe 3 months, 1 week ago

BUZZZZ, BUZZZZ... What's that I hear? So easy to stir up that hornets nest! Enjoy your weekend all!

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Dan Kuechenmeister 3 months, 1 week ago

Actually, if you want to see an "old out of touch/angry white guy" walk up to Harry Reid smile and say hey Harry, have you heard things go better with coke(Koch) (wait for it, wait for it - timing) Brothers.

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jerry carlton 3 months ago

I fully expect that social media will end slavery in Africa which has been going on since the beginning of recorded history. And yes for all my liberal friends, I am aware that the United States participated in slavery for a hundred years or so. Actually longer than that if you count the native Americans participation in slavery. The abduction of those young girls is a tragedy but to think the United States can do anything about it is a bad joke. Just the kind of thinking that got us into Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and has bankrupted the country.

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Ken Mauldin 3 months ago

We used to teach children that 'actions speak louder than words.'

Those were the days....

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mark hartless 3 months ago

A fallible human being he certainly is, but on balance I'll take George Will's logic over Michelle Obama's any day.

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Ken Mauldin 3 months ago

How about Charles Krauthammer:

"When a superpower, with multiple means at its disposal, reverts to rhetorical emptiness and hashtag activism, it has betrayed both its impotence and indifference. But if you’re an individual citizen without power, if you lack access to media, drones or special forces, then hashtagging your solidarity with the aggrieved is a fine gesture and perhaps even more."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-the-sound-and-the-fury--and-the-tweet/2014/05/15/cee611da-dc60-11e3-bda1-9b46b2066796_story.html

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rhys jones 3 months ago

My reason for not joining the hashtag revolution has nothing to do with politics or its claimed effectiveness.

It's the technology. I'm old school. I grew up with the command line, fancy windows a relatively recent innovation. Technology has been shoving itself down my throat since shortly after High School, whether I wanted it or not. I still prefer scp over ftp; the fewer GUI's the better. http, MySQL, PHP, csv, CSS, DNS, the acronyms fly fast and furious...

And now you want me to learn hashtags? HA!! What fad will come down the trail next? I was goaded into Facebook, still don't Twitter. I have a flip-phone: Damn thing won't die, and I don't need the techno following me around.

Like Dad said, who aided and abetted in the lark:

"I don't wanna learn nuthin' new."

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Dan Kuechenmeister 3 months ago

I guess I am one of Neil's old out of touch/angry white guys as I don't get the hashtag or twitter stuff. Hard enough for me to remember my password to log into this blog. Some how I don't think Churchill and Roosevelt getting together to, #close the concentration camps! would have had much of an impact on the Nazis.

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Scott Wedel 3 months ago

So you are saying Bolo Haram has the same sort of military power as Nazi Germany?

Bolo Haram exists due to Nigeria failing to exert control over part of it's country. So it makes sense to have a publicity campaign to publicly shame the Nigerian government to take control of it's country and not allow Bolo Haram the freedom to kidnap hundreds of students.

What would be the US military mission there? To fight under the command of the Nigerian army to exert Nigerian government control over Nigerian land?

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Dan Kuechenmeister 3 months ago

Hey Scott, As you post on a lot of articles in this blog you portray yourself as "intelligent". Yep, I am saying Boko Haram is as powerful as the Nazis. Please. You may think I am that stupid, but really i am not. Now I don't post on as many articles as you do, which really is a good thing. (better to be silent and look like a fool then open ones mouth and prove it). Let me help you out. Where were the #don't kill our boys, when Boko Haram murdered 59 boys in February. No doubt Boko Haram kidnapping those girls is horrific. Where was #Hillary name Boko Haram a terrorist organization, when she refused to do so. And she is our anointed next president. I hope these girls are found, released and Boko Haram pays the price. But I don't think hashtag this or hashtag that is the solution.

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Scott Wedel 3 months ago

You are the one that brought up concentration camps and Nazi Germany as if was comparable to Bolo Haram.

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Fred Duckels 3 months ago

Most of the social media types seemed trapped much akin to the potheads. In my opinion the jury is still out on where these sheeples will lead us.

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Jeff Kibler 3 months ago

If Neil had stated "Young out of touch/angry black gals" his post would not have survived.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 3 months ago

yep, he might have ended up like Steve Mendell

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jerry carlton 3 months ago

Neil I am going to guess that you are a young, angry white liberal guy. If you were Black, Hispanic, Asian, or none of the above would your post be considered racist? Do you dislike your parents or just old conservative guys? If you live long enough, someday you will be old. You might want to think about that. Have a nice evening.

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jerry carlton 3 months ago

Whoops missed old "white". guys. Hard for us old conservative" white" guys to get things right All you liberal people of all races have a nice evening..

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Scott Wedel 3 months ago

My memory fails me on whether the USA defended Hungary against the invading Soviets and stopped communism in Cuba before the Great Society.

It must have been the Great Society social reforms that created the limitations on US military power because prior to that apparently we completely controlled the world. And apparently we were doing so well in Vietnam until the Great Society defeated the US military.

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Neil O'Keeffe 3 months ago

BTW I am not the one that coined that term, it was used by much of "Lame Stream" media following the reaction of many conservatives to the outcome of the last presidential election. I realize that was a long time ago for most of you and commiserate with your fading/selective memories.

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jerry carlton 3 months ago

Neil Still did not say if you dislike your parents or just old white guy conservatives? Still wonder if you are a racist for disliking "white" guys? I guess in your world it is OK to disparage "white" guys but not Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, or none of the above..

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Dan Kuechenmeister 3 months ago

Jerry, my guess is he won't answer. He likes to insult those who don't agree with his ideology. Other than that. Crickets.

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rhys jones 3 months ago

I find the term "white" offensive. It is suggestive of pallor, a lack of color or health.

Any other old fogies remember the early-'70's cult thriller with Charleton Heston, "The Omega Man"? Man, those radiated dudes were WHITE!! I'm nowhere near that.

I'm a pinkish shade of tan, darker in the summer.

I would prefer the technical term, Caucasian. Or Honky. Round Eye. Anything but White.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 3 months ago

Wow. Omega Man. What's next a screening of 2001, A Space Odyssey. Those were the days eh Rhys

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rhys jones 3 months ago

Man, we were supposed to have robots by now -- real walking talking ones... and personal hovercraft. Be colonizing the stars, got the time/space warp figured out... and medicine by now would have surely found the key to immortality.

WHAT WENT WRONG???

(and they'd better hurry)

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Scott Wedel 3 months ago

Rhys, It is interesting to look at science fiction and see what they think will be easy and still doesn't exist and the stuff we have which already surpasses what is available in the distant future.

In short, AI remains far harder than predicted. AI would be a complete disaster if it wasn't able to quickly search vast amounts of data.

Space travel remains hard and very expensive.

Meanwhile, computing power and storage continues to increase at incredible rates. The computing power of a smart phone is absolutely ridiculous and absurdly better than Star Trek communicators and so on.

Communications capacity whether fiber or wireless also continues to increase at a high rate.

Medicine has so much more knowledge on cell chemistry and DNA that it is almost hard to believe. That knowledge at what happens at the molecular level has not seen similar progress in diagnosis or treatments, but that is the focus of immense research efforts by pharma.

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Peter Arnold 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Great discussion here. Occasionally I'll get sucked into trolling a thread and this one seems to have drawn out the regulars, love you guys, and want to ask one thing. If I'm not mistaken a great deal of what started the Arab Spring not long ago were several events going viral via Twitter-Tunisia, Egypt, et al. For those who occasionally get sucked into the viral vortex that is commentary on Rob's commentary, I wonder how many people are out there in the audience are thinking Fallon, Timberlake, and The Roots and there one hit wonder #STFU?

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Peter Arnold 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Great discussion here. Occasionally I'll get sucked into trolling a thread and this one seems to have drawn out the regulars, love you guys, and want to ask one thing. If I'm not mistaken a great deal of what started the Arab Spring not long ago were several events going viral via Twitter-Tunisia, Egypt, et al. For those who occasionally get sucked into the viral vortex that is commentary on Rob's commentary, I wonder how many people are out there in the audience thinking Fallon, Timberlake, and The Roots and there one hit wonder #STFU?

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