Hashtag Activism ≠ Slacktivism

The Internet, specifically social media, has changed the ways in which people engage with news. In fact, the idea of “hashtag activism” has been termed to describe how people use social media “hashtags” as a method of political and social participation on the Internet. Hashtags are typically used to create trending topics and they have more recently become a method to promote campaigns and encourage citizen involvement through Internet activism. However, there is much debate over whether hashtag activism is indeed contributing to the actual issues at hand or if it is simply a form of “slacktivism”.

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Throughout this post, I will be highlighting how various social and political issues gain awareness through the use of hashtags and social media. I will explain how hashtag activism is not simply a form of slacktivism and actually does promote participation through wide spread social consciousness on the Internet.

First, I have outlined a few of the major hashtag activism campaigns that have occurred and why these are successful methods in today’s technologically advanced world.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a major social media campaign that involved dumping ice water on top of your head and nominating other people to do the same in order to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although one may argue that this silly act is simply a form of slacktivism and does not influence any social change, statistics prove that the challenge did in fact raise awareness and promote citizen engagement and support. In an article written in the blog Quartz, the author explains how the Ice Bucket Challenge raised about $220 million for ALS. Although the simple act of dousing oneself in freezing cold water may not seem to directly impact ALS, it raises wide spread awareness thus encouraging people to take action. The ALS Association (ALSA) expresses how the social media phenomenon had an immense effect on the disease and raising money for the cause. In fact, the ALSA released an infographic to display how the funds from the Ice Bucket Challenge will used (seen below).als-ibc-infographic-final-20150714.png


Another very successful hashtag activism campaign is Black Lives Matter also known as “#blacklivesmatter”, which was started in an attempt to raise awareness for police brutality on racial minorities. Quartz explains:

While it might not have solved the issue, social media campaigns like #blacklivesmatter guided that discussion, and in some cases led to real change: one digital petition successfully removed the Confederate Flag from South Carolina’s capitol.

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Again, while simply using the hashtag may not be considered participation in the traditional form, people are using it to raise awareness and start important conversations about social issues such as this one. The #blacklivesmatter campaign has expanded immensely and increased its social media presence by creating its own Twitter and Instagram accounts in addition to its website. This allows for people to have continuous access to information surrounding the campaign and encourages engagement on various platforms. The Internet has introduced an entirely new ball game for activism campaigns such as #blacklivesmatter, which can now become increasingly visible to a large amount of people instantaneously. This makes social media an extremely useful tool to share information and gain supporters through the use of hashtag activism.

Facebook Profile Filters

Lastly, I would like to talk about the Facebook profile filters that have encouraged people to show their support and actively engage with societal issues.  On June 26th, 2015 the United States legalized gay marriage. Following the courts decision, Facebook created a feature that allowed all users to change the backdrop of their profile pictures to be rainbow.Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 4.25.12 PM.png People were thus able to show their support to everyone on Facebook by simply changing the color of their main picture as shown above. Although one may argue that this Facebook component does not really initiate any sort of social change, it does allow for people to be socially involved and supportive. As  CNN News reports:

Changing a profile picture is easily dismissed as low-effort activism. But for many people who are not typically political it was a way to quietly show support.

This quote explains how these profile picture changes are a useful form of hashtag activism by giving more people an opportunity to display their support. The “shyer” members of society are more encouraged to engage and participate in social campaigns because of the accessibility that social media components such as this provide their users.

Additionally, Facebook reinstated the feature  following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, allowing people to change the filter of their picture to the colors of the France flag.aaanew_facebook_3501243b.jpg

This was meant to again show support for the people in Paris and provide a sense of unity between Facebook users. Again, although one may argue that this simple profile picture filter would not directly affect the issues with ISIS, it allows people to express their solidarity for the people in Paris and provide one another with a sense of hope for peace in the future.

There have been a multitude of other hashtag activism campaigns in addition to what I have spoken about above. I have attached below an infographic from Info Graphic World, that depicts the strong effects of successful hashtag activism campaigns.


On the University of Michigan’s campus, students are starting to use hashtag activism campaigns to spread the word about social issues that they feel strongly about. Emily Hochhauser is a student at the University who is in the process of starting “#GoBlueGoVote” in an attempt to encourage all members of the Michigan community to vote in the upcoming presidential election. I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily to discuss her hashtag activism campaign and how she believes that it will encourage social change on campus.

Additionally, to get an inside newsroom perspective, I interviewed CBS News Associate Producer Jenna Sakwa to see her position on hashtag activism. Although she admits that she does not participate in hashtag activism campaigns, Sakwa expresses how she honestly believes that online participation does lead to social change. As well, she believes that hashtag activism has a promising future because of the known success of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Jenna Sakwa, CBS News Interview
Sydney Sakwa: Do you use hashtags at CBS to report on news stories?
Jenna Sakwa: I do sometimes use hashtags. I think it can be a good way to organize stories, so you can follow along with reporting. I also think Hashtags are particularly useful when following/or live-tweeting a live event, such a s a speech, a news event, or a conference.
Sydney Sakwa: Have you participated in “hashtag activism” campaigns such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or #blacklivesmatter? If yes, did you donate or participate in any other way besides social media?
Jenna Sakwa: I have not participated in any “hashtag activism” campaigns. I think as a journalist, it’s our responsibility to report on some of these campaigns and trends, but not necessarily partake in them.
Sydney Sakwa: Do you believe that “hashtag activism” campaigns are a form of “slacktivism” or do you think it raises awareness and can cause real social change?
Jenna Sakwa: I think that tweeting or taking part in a good cause on social media, is better than doing nothing at all. Although I do understand the argument for hashtag activism as slacktivism, I know that it does really help certain causes and can allow people to show support.
Sydney Sakwa: Where do you see the future of campaigns and social activism going?
Jenna Sakwa: Look there’s no denying the success of the ALS ice bucket challenge, they raised money and got their message out. I would imagine other campaigns are trying to duplicate the viral success of the ice bucket challenge, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of that.

Hashtag activism is used for various campaigns regarding social and political issues. The Internet and social media allow people to band together with ease and speed. As discussed in an explanation from Info Graphic World, “Hashtag activism is a growing trend, and one that will only increase with time. Social media has become an outlet for average citizens around the world to band together in support of a cause that they believe in”. As I explained previously, although not all forms of hashtag activism may not seem to contribute to social change on the surface, social media allows people to unite over shared support of a cause. As well, this wide spread action leads to more informative citizens who can then participate and engage in campaigns in which they encounter. Social media and the Internet as a whole allow people to readily create and expand campaigns online ultimately increasingly social change and citizen participation through hashtag activism.


Jenna Sakwa- CBS News

photo.pngAlthough my beat throughout the semester has focused on how sports fandom has been affected by digital innovations, I decided to profile someone in the news industry for this blog post. My sister, Jenna Sakwa, works for CBS News as an associate producer and talent booker. I asked her a few questions regarding her day-to-day work life. She recently moved to Washington DC to work at the CBS News office there in order to be closer to politics and the upcoming election in 2016.

I was very interested to see how social media has affected the news industry and how this is changing the ways in which news outlets are adapting to digital disruption. I found it very interesting that personally her main source of news is Twitter. It is surprising that someone who works for a structured news company would admit that Twitter is in fact their main source of news. I found this to be a perfect example of how social media and technological innovations are shaping the how people are getting their news, even those who work for more traditional outlets.

Additionally, I found it very interesting that Jenna needs to uphold the values of CBS News on her personal social media accounts. Although she is my sister, I had no idea that she was put under such immense pressure to maintain the CBS brand.

Below I attached our email interview and I think that all of her responses are extremely valuable because of her inside look at what is happening in the news industry.


SS: What is a typical day for you like at CBS News
JS: I wake up at 7am to watch my show, CBS This Morning, simultaneously, checking email and various social media sites. I’m in the office by 9am for our bureau news meeting where the DC bureau chief runs through the day’s major events in the nationals capital. From there I continue reading in and trying to find good stories to cover for the next day’s show. Usually by 1030AM, I’ll have an assignment. Everyday is different, sometimes I’ll be up Capitol Hill for a hearing trying to get sound from members of Congress, other days I’m calling campaigns, different sources or experts. It totally depends on what the day brings. Typically by the afternoon I’ll have booked an interview for a piece . I usually stay at the office through the CBS Evening News.
SS: How do you go about contacting people for interviews and booking them for the show?
JS: There are a handful of experts and sources that are our “go to” bookings. Those include people like Michael Morell, the former Acting director of the CIA, and Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s former campaign manager. I’ve developed relationships with these people and they will either do our show, or help point me in the right direction to find the right guest. Other means of finding guests include finding people quoted in print articles, former administration officials, and contacting think tanks. Usually their emails/phone numbers are on their websites. Typically people like to help, especially when the topic is something in their wheelhouse.
SS: Do you use social media in order to stay up to date on the news?
JS: Twitter is my main source of news. I’m constantly refreshing the platform. I follow all the major news outlets, but also the journalists/reporters on various beats. The campaign reporters do a great job of tweeting out “color” from various political events. Also some of the foreign correspondents in the field are incredible. You can get live coverage from the Syrian border. It’s something.
SS: Do you have to uphold the values of CBS on your own personal social media sites?
JS: Yes. That is something that is extremely important to CBS News. We’re a legacy news organization and everything we say on social media represents the brand. Of course, it’s true in a lot of fields that you have to be careful on social media. But I think particularly in Journalism, you have a responsibility to be unbiased, to make sure what you’re tweeting is accurate and fair.
SS: What is the most difficult task you have had to do while working for CBS News?
JS: Calling the families of victims of shootings. There have been at least 15 mass shootings in my time at CBS News. You want to give their families the opportunity to memorialize their loved one and share their story. But making those calls never gets easier. And when families ask for privacy from media, we always obey their wishes. Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 3.32.36 PM.png


A New Perspective on the Game


GoPro Camera

Various technological innovations are changing the ways in which people watch sports. GoPro is one in particular that gives sports fans a new visual perspective on the game that they are viewing. As seen in the picture shown on the right, a GoPro is a small waterproof camera that is made for “extreme-action videography”. The portable camera is shaping the way that people are capturing live activity and movement to create videos that make the viewer feel like they are a part of the action. Additionally, the GoPro can be attached to the person that is filming the video creating an even more valuable perspective of what is happening from the videographer’s point of view.

The GoPro has teamed up with many different professional sports, but in particular it has partnered with the National Hockey League (NHL). The fast-paced sport of hockey demands this new technology to give fans a real life experience of being in the game. As seen in the video above, the GoPro can provide each fan with video that places them into the action of the sport. The viewers are able to see live and close-up action of the players on the ice. In the past, people were only able to see what was happening from cameras above or surrounding the ice rink. This gave people the experience of simply watching the game in-person, if they were unable to attend. However, GoPro now gives people the opportunity to see on-ice action and feel what it is like to be in the game, not solely watching.

Additionally, attaching the GoPro to the physical body of a player creates another new experience for sports fans. Not only can the viewer see the action more closely on the ice, but they can also feel like they are actually the player. It is every sports fan’s dream to be a player for a day, and GoPro has allowed these people to have this experience. It gives the fans the visual perspective of the player allowing them to see through the eyes of the celebrity.

GoPro has changed the viewing experience for sports fans by allowing them to become a part of the action. As a huge NHL fan myself, I find that this new footage is extremely valuable and creates an entirely new viewpoint of the game. It has also increased my participation in keeping up with the sport because of the amazing experience that the GoPro has created. This innovative new technology is shaping the way that sports fans are engaging with their teams by providing them with in-action footage that was once not available.

Data Visualization

The methods of producing journalism and presenting data have dramatically changed by the modernization of technology. Data visualization in particular is one consequence of the technologically growing society. As discussed in an article written in Source, “We are living in an increasingly visual world, peering into screens of different sizes with incrementally superior resolutions at every device upgrade. We are also living in a world with more data available to us than ever before”. This statement explains how with greater access to technology there is now even more data out there for people to explore. Additionally, this new visual world that we live in encourages people to then take this data and create news ways of presenting it to people.


The data visualization that I have inserted above is one that relates to my topic of sports fandom. It is a map of the United States that represents Facebook users preference of NFL team based on color. This graphic makes it easy to see where people in the US are cheering for specific teams.

I believe that this graphic is extremely effective. It uses color coordination making it very bright and easy to follow. As well, by using a map of the United people are able to easily visualize where the teams are gaining the majority of their fans. This is something that I find to be more interesting and straightforward than conventional forms of presenting data. This visualization is different from traditional journalism in that it has no written content and simply expresses what is happening in one graphic. As well, I find that it has one major shortcoming: its source. The visualization uses data from Facebook to gather its results, which may not be completely accurate or sufficient to generalize for the entire United States. Nevertheless, I find that this graphic is an extremely useful method to display data because of its “easy to look at” format giving people an effective way to visualize the data at hand.