July 20, 2024
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The Trouble With ‘Hashtag Activism’

People like to joke that one of the main ways they get their news is through Facebook. For me, sadly, it’s not a joke anymore. I’ve found out about far too many world happenings through Facebook; most recently, I noticed posts referencing new police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement, and found out about the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as the policemen murdered in Dallas.

Tel Aviv, Israel. Orlando, Florida. Baghdad, Iraq. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Dallas, Texas. What loosely ties these locations together is the violence and bloodshed that has struck them in recent memory. The attacks in each location are very different, of course, but all of them caused a firestorm of posts on social media feeds with a plethora of hashtags and motifs. #PrayForOrlando! #BlackLivesMatter! #IStandWithIsrael!

I used to write posts myself when a tragedy like these happened, a hashtag in tow. Once or twice, I remember, I even simply posted a hashtag. I felt that it was right to respond on my personal feed to these events, that I was doing something small to help the cause. But I don’t do those sorts of posts anymore. Of course I don’t fault anyone who wants to raise their voice through social media—spreading the word is important, and it’s crucial that people stay informed about all sorts of world events.

However, it’s not like my Facebook feed reaches a tremendously large, public audience. All of my posts are private, and usually only reach my friends list—which has been growing more diverse the past few years thanks to summer programs and the like, but isn’t a paradigm of diverse viewpoints or backgrounds by any means. Thus, a post I do might spread some awareness, but the emphasis there is on “might.” Chances are, most of the people who would see my posts have already heard about the incident I’d be writing about, and my voice is simply added to the chorus.

What’s wrong with being part of the chorus? Nothing in particular is wrong with being one voice of many, of course. However, what bothers me is that my post may or may not raise awareness, and then… that’s it. It doesn’t help, even in a minute way, change the situation or help any victims or anything like that. It simply sits there on my feed, possibly racking up likes and comments, but that’s it. My “hashtag activism” hits a dead end.

(A side point: The #IStandWithIsrael hashtag that I’ve used in the past and that many of my friends use is, while commendable, a true example of this for most people. If your friends list is mainly, if not entirely, pro-Israel—certainly the case with my feed, as far as I know—then statements like “I Stand With Israel” that only go to your friends are true examples of preaching to the choir. As nice as they are, they aren’t doing anything to help or to raise awareness, because they’re only reaching people who don’t need that sort of convincing!)

I’ll fully admit it: right now, I don’t know what I can tangibly do for the victims of the recent tragedies. I want to find a way, maybe through helping with or donating to fundraisers or writing letters, but right now I haven’t done anything like that yet. But I want to take action, to find some way to help, and writing something small on Facebook doesn’t feel like it will accomplish much, besides giving me some useless validation.

In my opinion, hashtag activism doesn’t do anything to help besides raising a bit of awareness, and even then it usually doesn’t do much if the incident is one that many are aware of already anyway. I don’t yet have my own answer of how I can tangibly and helpfully respond to the depressing events our world has been suffering through, but I do know that I want to find a way to make a small difference for the better—which doesn’t necessarily include a post on Facebook or a simple hashtag.

Oren Oppenheim, 18, is an alumnus of Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. This coming fall he will be attending Yeshivat Orayta in Jerusalem; he will start college at the University of Chicago in 2017. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist and a journalist. You can email him at [email protected].

By Oren Oppenheim

 

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