Twitter is simultaneously a place for us to say what we would like in 140 characters or less, and stalk our favourite celebrities via the Internet. Whether we are producing our own tweets, or just looking at someone else’s, the published content is not inherently connected to a person’s thoughts, although we sometimes think we know more about a person simply because we see their online updates. What someone posts may or may not be true, and has no inherent meaning. It is published content that is chosen and constructed. Words are given social significance by those who read them. While twitter posts can be seen as what the YouTube video, “Twitter The Musical” referred to as “literary littering,” Murthy argues that ‘ordinary people’ are becoming more visible by turning themselves into content to be consumed through social media (p. 1063).
One example of this is the recent phenomena of ‘hashtag activism.’ In 2012, #Kony2012 and #StopKony was trending on twitter. This media frenzy was initiated by a documentary that was encouraging people to invest in the cause, by sharing the documentary online, raising awareness on social media, and by buying the merchandise. The goal was to ‘stop’ Joseph Kony, a Ugandian war criminal who was accused of abducting child soldiers (Dewey). While there were plenty of skeptics, the issue was sparking conversations online all over the world, and soon the mainstream media had picked up on it. Troops were sent to retrieve him, but the activism in itself has been construed as inefficient as it succeeded in raising awareness, but not in providing effective solutions. Dewey argues that it comes down to a debate as to whether or not awareness stands alone as a protest.
What disturbs me the most about situations like #Kony2012 and most recently, #BringBackOurGirls, is that people are only investing in these issues when it is literally trendy or trending to do so. These issues have gone on long before Twitter, and are continuing to go unnoticed until North American culture distributes its own coverage. The Kony documentary was released by Americans, not Ugandians (Dewey), and this is once again a situation in which we only take notice when the privileged speak for the oppressed. When will we listen to those who experience oppression and hardships first-hand?
Can a whole issue even be represented in 140 characters, or in a hashtag? All social phenomena have layers of complexity, oppression, and historical context. Hashtags such as #BringBackOurGirls, #Kony2012 and #YesAllWomen succeed in creating awareness and public discussion, but can be problematic in the ways that they simplify the situations. Are we participating in hashtag activism because we have become completely informed on the matter, and we support the intentions of the hashtag movement, or do we simply want to appear as though we are ‘in the know,’ and socially aware? Murther argues, “Twitter has everything to do with self-presentation” (p. 1062). While hashtag activism can result in change, I highly doubt that all participants in the movements are informed with the motivation and intention of making change, and that there is a significant portion who just want to be ‘on trend’ with the world’s latest hashtag movement.