Social media has an ever-increasing presence in the world of activism. Twitter is the perfect platform to share your thoughts and create conversations with other users in under 280 characters. The rise of “hashtag activism” has allowed strangers of all different backgrounds and beliefs to participate in discussions that concern them. Movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter have grown exponentially because of the power of Twitter.
Hashtag activism is often critiqued for its limitations. The ability to share and like a tweet may not equate to demanding change through physical protest. To some, it may seem that it is simply a method of communicating to others that you care about the issue at hand, as opposed to actively seeking change. Nevertheless, hashtag activism is unique in its ability to spread information fast. It increases awareness among the millions of social media users in mere seconds, often in the form of trending hashtags and news.
However, it seems that as hashtag activism grows, criticism of particular social movements becomes more and more unwelcome. Although belligerent and ignorant statements are rightfully distressing and unwanted, not all criticism should go ignored and face retaliation. There is always room for improvement, and social movements and activism shouldn’t be exempt from criticism. More importantly, the voices of these critics should not be silenced or attacked.
The #MeToo movement faced a large amount of both judgment and appraisal. Catherine Deneuve, a French actress, shared her opinion about the #MeToo movement. Essentially, she penned a letter that stated the legitimate protest against sexual violence had gone too far. She claimed that unwelcome sexual advances by men were not sexual assault and the #MeToo movement sent “men to the slaughterhouse” before they were even found guilty.
Although I, like many, disagree with Deneuve’s message, it raises an important question — how do we define sexual assault? However, Deneuve’s letter was immediately faced with brutal replies. Many people on Twitter responded with claims that her beliefs were a sign of internalized misogyny and that she was invalidating sexual assault. This harsh response to a personal opinion closed the door for an open dialogue about the faults of #MeToo, thus impeding its progress.
This occurrence is not singular; instead, it is happening quite frequently. This creates an echo chamber, where people will only surround themselves with like-minded individuals, rarely opening themselves up for healthy debate and change. Similarly, those with differing views may feel that their opinions are not accepted and that they are ostracized for having them. This rejection of criticism creates an environment in which change is not easily achieved, even when it is necessary.
This may be another indication of the restrictions of hashtag activism. On Twitter, you only have limited space to share your thoughts, and you are behind a screen where it is difficult to communicate your message in a poignant and effective manner. Additionally, the lack of face-to-face contact makes it painless to automatically reject and vilify someone’s opinion.
It is important to take into consideration the effect of ostracizing opposing ideas. It is much easier to ignore differing perspectives and seek validation and comfort regarding your own political agenda on social media. However, when we actively seek conversation and listen and raise questions, it creates a more knowledgeable environment where we can address the issues with how we approach social change during the era of online protest.
Theodora Catrina is a freshman majoring in mathematics.