Traditional Activism vs. Hashtag Activism | Part One

If you told great traditional activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. that movements could be founded in 140 characters or less, he likely would not have believed you, and I probably wouldn’t blame him. Some days it seems like the ease and immediacy with which we can rally people together behind a united cause is more of a figment of our imagination rather than a fact of life today. 

Here at American Majority we strive to participate in and advocate for both traditional and Hashtag activism. You can reach countless more people through a viral tweet than you can in a day of knocking on doors. But both are important because they accomplish different things for your organization. One can not replace the other because they both serve different and separate functions. Hashtag activism can spread the word about an issue or an idea, but it cannot form relationships and build trust like traditional activism can.

Yet it is still incredible that we have the technology at our fingertips that enables us to have training forums online like the webinars we’ve been hosting over the past few months when we cannot meet up in person. That is not something we should take for granted, but it is important that we know the difference between traditional activism and Hashtag activism. 

When thinking of traditional activism, picture groups of people with picket signs, participating in marches, giving speeches, and, in general, physically and actively pursuing change in a particular area. Many of the protests and sit-ins of the Civil Rights Era capture this form of activism perfectly. Although they utilized the technology at their disposal (mainly telephones at the time) to communicate their message and organize participants, the majority of their actual activism took place in public locations. 

In many cases of traditional activism, there is a potential physical risk the activist undertakes as they advocate regardless of if they are sitting in a white’s only section of a bus or sitting at a lunch counter. These forms of traditional activism are rarely violent but rather practice civil disobedience.

Hashtag Activism, more colloquially known as slacktivism, Twitter activism, clicktivism or arm-chair activism, is essentially what the unflattering names suggest. It is the idea that Twitter, and other social media platforms like it, have resulted in the replacement of effective real-world activism with ineffective online activism. It is when someone retweets a post, places a hashtag in their profile bio, adds a filter to their profile picture, and, in general, do very little physically to enact change but instead minimally support a cause from the comfort of their phone.

So why does the distinction matter? 

It matters because Hashtag Activism, while it does reach a large audience, does not create the lasting change that most passionate activists are seeking. At the end of the day, we want whatever we are advocating for to be successful even after we ourselves are gone – not just after a tweet has fallen in someone’s timeline. 

Next week we will delve further into the pitfalls of Hashtag Activism. Stay tuned!