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We Can't Hashtag Our Way To The #Future

From #BanBossy to #YesAllWomen, hashtags are dominating the media. But Internet activism is far from real activism and we need to better understand the character of the #.

Credit: Shutterstock

Welcome to #Hashtag #America.

The power of Twitter has reached such prominence that hashtagging has become a global phenomenon. The social media way of creating viral topics is driving much of today’s “news.”

The #YesAllWomen hashtag just went global, with complaints about how women are treated coming in from around the world.

Many of the results were horrifying – tales of women victimized by rape, abuse and harassment. But the hashtag quickly turned left, bashing guns, gun owners, men and more. Conservatives responded and #YesAllWomen became yet another battleground for the culture wars.

Image source: Twitter/FLOTUS Image source: Twitter/FLOTUS

The media reported in typical fashion – hyping the Twitter discussion from a politically correct slant. Broadcast networks, cable news and top newspapers all followed the story. In a time where reporters seldom leave their desks, reading Twitter takes the place of actual reporting.

[sharequote align="center"]When reporters seldom leave their desks, reading Twitter takes the place of actual reporting.[/sharequote]

The Washington Post’s “She The People” described the debate under the headline: “#YesAllWomen: A short fuse between rejection and violence.”

“Women are expected to adjust to silently living in fear,” wrote Lauren McEwen.

The United Kingdom's Guardian Jessica Valenti asked: “When will we admit that our society is misogynist?”

Rather than admit the shooter was a nutball who also murdered men, journalists flocked to the hashtag.

What they should have learned is this: It’s impossible to have an intelligent discussion with the 140 characters allowed by Twitter, minus the 12 taken by the hashtag. All that’s left are the pithier statements or personal nightmares. The possibility of women getting guns for self defense, stronger penalties for sex crimes and more are easily lost in the shuffle.

Credit: Shutterstock Credit: Shutterstock

Every hashtag gets played for quick emotion in the same way.

#YesAllWomen followed closely on the heels of the Obama administration’s move to send 80 troops into Nigeria to rescue more than 300 girls kidnapped by Islamic terrorists. Obama now runs his foreign policy by hashtag, with First Lady Michelle Obama proudly demanding terrorists “#BringBackOurGirls” in an embarrassing photo op.

Apparently, it hasn’t dawned on this White House that terrorists aren’t intimidated by Twitter. Possibly because their Stone-Age attitudes don’t allow for social media empathy.

[sharequote align="center"]It hasn’t dawned on this White House that terrorists aren’t intimidated by Twitter.[/sharequote]

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers criticized the fiasco.

“You can’t base your policy based on what’s trending on Twitter,” Politico reported he said May, 11, on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It has to be more than hashtags and selfies.”

Fat chance.

Twitter is just too popular for rational thought to take hold. It has 241 million users and is on a path to hit 400 million in the next few years. Tweeting has become an omnipresent way of reaching out and touching others. The so-called Twitterati (God help us, that’s even in the Oxford Dictionary) can have legitimate influence, but they are all over the map.

(Screengrab via Mediaite) (Screengrab via Mediaite)

Someone used Twitter to send a death threat to Brewers outfielder Khris Davis. Scout Willis, the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, posted topless pictures on Twitter to protest Instagram’s policy against nudity. Even “an anonymous man with the Twitter handle @HiddenCash has been hiding money throughout” San Francisco, reported Fox News.

That popularity has made Twitter ripe for online activism. A “Colbert Report” tweet about Asians caused a firestorm in response. Similarly, the #BanBossy campaign attempted to engage young women on social media far less successfully than #YesAllWomen.

The Guardian even asked: “can Twitter end world hunger?” (Short answer: Of course not.)

Social media is an essential tool for businesses and government to reach people. But it’s an inaccurate gauge of how our society feels on a topic. How engaged are users if all they do is repeat someone else’s 140-character comment? Or even if they write themselves? And what about the billions who aren’t on Twitter at all.

Sophisticated organizations craft their Twitter and Facebook campaigns just as they crafted direct mail, radio jingles or TV commercials decades ago. Twitter reflects a key demographic of the most active Internet users.

It’s worse for the media, who treat even interesting Twitter trend like the Fail Whale will come after them if they don’t write it. Just because the once lowly # was called the pound sign doesn’t mean it carries the weight that journalists believe it does.

Dan Gainor is the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. He writes frequently about media for TheBlaze. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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