Online outrage encourages slacktivism through superficial hashtag movements

In the past few months, campaigns such as #MeToo, #TimesUp and #IHearYou have been retweeted, instagrammed and shared over two million times worldwide to show solidarity with those affected by sexual misconduct. As easy and effective as the mobilization of hashtag activism may be in raising awareness for a cause, viral outrage may not elicit effective action.

“It’s impossible to ignore,” senior Peyton Young said. “The hashtags appear on every form of social media and news, making anyone living in the 21st century aware of the movement.”

Retweeting a hashtag or liking a picture to show support for a cause is not substantial work. Instead, it allows for people to do the bare minimum and think they should simply stop there. These movements might even aim to make the person retweeting ease their conscience rather than actually helping the victim themselves.

“With any type of activism, you have to do something other than using a hashtag,”  English teacher Anna Schultes said. “People want to engage in a conversation and social media is the easiest way to engage but a lot of the criticism is that you may not be doing anything.”

Rose McGowan, one of the original silence breakers against Harvey Weinstein, called the #TimesUp hashtag a “band-aid” for actors who perpetuated a culture of silence to remove the stigmas surrounding themselves and appear, as online magazine Refinery29 coined, a “certified woke bae.”

The “certified woke bae” title is shared by the likes of Aziz Ansari, another participant in the #TimesUp movement who wore a pin during the Golden Globes to show solidarity. Weeks later, sexual misconduct claims against him went viral.

“Sending out a tweet as a celebrity saying you support a cause will give you more positive attention,” Young said. “All you had to do was tweet ‘I support the #metoo movement.’”

While #MeToo and #TimesUp have led to positive action such as raising millions of dollars for a legal fund to encourage victims to speak out, they have also led to people just donating a sum of money or saying whatever seems “woke” to appear socially aware. Online activism may lead to what is called “Slacktivism,” or not doing anything but taking the title of an activist.

“Oftentimes, posting with a hashtag makes you look socially aware,” junior Itzel Segura said. “However, within 48 hours people can just forget about it and move on.”

Activist hashtags have been retweeted or shared multiple times but often, that is all that happens. One who does not feel comfortable sharing their own stories may even be villainized for supposedly not supporting a cause.

“It’s kind of a crowd mentality where people use a hashtag because they think they should and doing so may cover up the real issue at hand,” Schultes said. “Even with the #MeToo movement, I almost felt obligated to have posted something.”

Like a marketing technique, viral outrage is free and easy to sell an image of yourself without sacrificing your time or effort to substantiate it. Without doing meaningful work, the movement is meaningless.

Instead of just stopping at a hashtag, stop scrolling for a few minutes and actually understand the implications of the movement itself. Voice your support for victims online and offline, and go beyond the hashtag to keep viral outrage static and constant instead of just being limited to spurts of support. A hashtag can start a conversation, but a hashtag doesn’t have to end it.

“Activism should not be a trend and neither should the conversations about these issues” Segura said. “People want to know what these issues are in order to talk about it but they also need to know about these issues, period.”