The most obscure thing to come out of today’s age of social media has got to be the hashtag. This pound sign preceding a word or phrase started out being used to track discussion trends on twitter. I just logged onto my account and found #WorldCup, #TheFaultinOurStars and #Syria – clearly hot topics in current affairs and pop-culture that people are talking about. Gradually this symbol expanded to Facebook, Instagram and the spoken word as a means of emphasis or to attach satirical undertones to ideas, statements and photos. #YOLO
So far the hashtag has been a useful twitter tool and a clever way to punchline a statement, but recently the hashtag has become more than a trendsetter and apparently much more important than a tool for humor. It has become a symbol to unite people who back specific social or political causes in lieu of having to formulate complete thoughts or engage in physical protest. The hashtag is the lazy individual’s form of expressing dissent or urgency towards a conflict; it is a way to make the guilty privileged of the world feel like they are doing something about the atrocities taking place around them, or the oppressed victims’ channel to demand that everyone recognize their despair. It is a way to attach limited individual opinion to a collective movement in the pursuit of self-righteousness. It is a way to type less and say more.
There are two specific recent examples of hashtag campaigns that really bothered me, and one that I’m disappointed in for following the trend. I agree staunchly with the message behind the first campaign, disagree strongly with the intentions behind the second campaign and am heartbroken over the event inspiring the third. In the first two campaigns, I believe that by using hashtags to popularize the problems at hand, the voices (If you can even call them that) behind these movements made a mockery out of their issue and were pathetic in expecting anyone to take them seriously.
The first issue is the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Immediately after this made the press, celebrities, politicians and social media users around the world began to post photos and statements using the “#BringBackOurGirls” hashtag. As I mentioned, I firmly agree that people should speak out against the act of terror committed against this large group of young girls, but the extent to which this hashtag was popularized and “celebritized” was an insult against not only the victims of this kidnapping but every single Muslim being oppressed in the world today. Michelle Obama was the greatest offender.
Where were Michelle’s hashtags for the sexual segregation that every Muslim Woman experiences on a daily basis in countries such as Saudi Arabia? A country which her husband has diplomatic and economic relationships with. Where is Michelle’s hashtag for the Egyptian population suffering under the extremism and oppression that has erupted since her husband spoke before in support of an Arab “Spring”? Where are her hashtags for the millions of girls who continue to be genitally mutilated, raped and beaten under Shariah Law, or murdered in the name of honour killings in her own country and the dozens of countries around Europe fostering the disease of radical Islam as we speak? The wife of the leader of the free world decided to speak up suddenly against the plight of Muslim Women in an isolated case by posing for a photo with a sad puppy face and a poster that is supposed to say what she can’t because her husband doesn’t like to take sides when it comes to the trouble with Islam today. #HowConvenientForHer
By singling out an issue that is getting extreme amounts of media attention and demanding on a piece of paper in four words that some obscure “someone” must all of a sudden act, the first lady and many other celebrities made a farce of themselves with this campaign. Either they are extremely ignorant to the fact that millions of Muslim women around the world are losing the Islamic war on gender every day, or they simply don’t care enough to talk about it if it’s not hot and trending.
Hashtag sensations like these just prove that people are sheep to the media and will use social media to feel bad for victims of terror and oppression when it is cool or provides good publicity. I don’t support the democrats, but I thought Michelle Obama was intellectually above the ludicrousness of standing behind a poster requesting that 200 girls be released from the hands of barbaric terrorists. Her husband is the most powerful man in the world, and he didn’t do anything about it, so who was she talking to in her Hashtag? Who did she want to bring back our girls? The terrorists? Did she think they were following our tweets in between lashes and quran reciting? Was she addressing the people sitting behind their computer screens re-Tweeting her photo who don’t actually know who Boko Haram is? Or was it a greater power she was talking to? Who is this cyber God that grants miracles after we send him our hashtags?
I don’t want to be too hard on the hashtag if it brings people into public forums and discussions about political affairs that they may otherwise not participate in. I think it is a good way to expose beliefs or statements, but there has to be some sort of consistency and elaboration. I just can’t accept the fact that people don’t care enough to write more than just a hashtag to protest an injustice without trying to express an individual opinion, or that influential leaders are using it to bring attention to issues that they otherwise would not strive to change or dare I say have so far been apathetic and even appeasing towards. #BarackHusseinObama
I don’t think that everyone has the ability to physically change the world and this is why we have communication channels such as the media and literature. Expression and writing is important and can definitely help shape policy and influence leaders to act. But hashtags are not an intelligent form of expressing opinions and offering solutions! They are a lazy, sheepish way to agree with a collective norm and can easily be attached to one’s name without having any knowledge or true passion for the issue at hand. They follow the pattern that social media and technology present us with more each day, the convenience of condensing information to meet our ever-shrinking attention spans. I suppose everyone has their own opinion on how negative or positive that is for society. I happen to think it’s a tragedy.
The second movement to blunder their campaign with hashtags is “#YesAllWomen”. This ridiculous trend is a Gloria Steinem reminiscent Feminist movement which recently accused the Elliot Rodger mass-murder in California of being a crime against women (even though more males were killed) and claims that all females are in a perpetual struggle under the victimhood of men. Forget the real victims of sexual segregation like our Nigerian girls, this group is a bunch of privileged females living in Western society taking offense when too many guys ask for their phone number at the bar. HBO’s “Girls” writer and star, Lena Dunham tweeted in response to the murder incident that she was once told by a boy in school that if she didn’t love him, he would make her. #BOOHOO.
Take the critical theorists and apply their war on class to a war on gender, and you have #YesAllWomen. Some people hate the 1%, and some people just hate men. I don’t relate to this theory and I don’t appreciate someone with a hashtag telling me that because I’m a woman I should. This campaign causes me to resent the hashtag for being used to perpetuate a mob mentality that seeks to vilify all men and expresses a double standard where all women must be respected, yet all men must be pigs.
The third issue that I’ve seen being hashtagged most recently is the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas this week. I want to be careful about how I phrase my opinion on this because this issue hits extremely close to home with many of my friends and colleagues who have written hashtags about these boys. I lament with them and feel my heart breaking each moment that I think about how Palestinians continue to terrorize innocent Israelis and morally rape the trust and hope we instill in them as potential neighbors and allies. I stand with the people who are writing these “BringOurBoysHome” hashtags and I empathize with their wishes and demands. I don’t want to criticize them as harshly as I criticized Michelle Obama because I know that my fellow Jews and Israelis who are flooding social media with outrage against this kidnapping devote their lives to crying out against the injustices of terror. This is not selective advocacy. But again, I must ask the question, to whom do they address?
They are surely not naïve enough to expect that Hamas, the perpetrators are any sort of an audience, and they must understand how fiercely our government and military are working to track down the boys. So here we are, talking to the hashtag God again.
This kidnapping is nothing like the Boko Haram event, and I would feel uncomfortable using a hashtag phrase that is borrowed from an event that is so different. Those girls didn’t have politicians and military officials who promised their parents to do everything possible to bring them home. I simply cannot borrow a phrase which comes from a social media campaign where I feel as though many ignorant people and celebrities’ words were used to de-value the global threat of Radical Islam by selectively protesting Boko Haram.
I don’t judge my friends who are using the “BringOurBoysBack hashtag this week; I respect and share their intentions. But I choose not to use this hashtag because I trust and honor the Israeli Defense Forces and our government, and I know that they are exhausting their efforts to bring our boys back without a need for our silly catchphrases. I don’t want to cheapen our issue with a hashtag that alludes to fake social justice heroes and cozy people pretending to do their part.
I say, enough with the hashtag demands. Enough with the metaphoric requests to some philosophical cyber God that doesn’t exist, and enough with the assumption that this little symbol on our keyboard holds power. Let us restore power in the richness of unique expression and individual thought, rather than trendy catchphrases that encourage mob thinking. We need to think of ways to express to the world the implications of this kidnapping, the toxicity of a diplomatic bond between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. We need to be explaining to the world through the power of our word what is going on in this region and that most tragedies are not isolated incidents, but part of a greater picture.
Today Bibi Netanyahu made a statement saying “Israel will act in all ways under its province, in all ways under its control to bring home 3 teenagers, Israel will act against the kidnappers and their terrorist sponsors and comrades. We will do whatever needs to be done to protect our people, citizens, our children and our teenagers from the scourge of terrorism.” It’s easy to use a hashtag to express solidarity, but I think that our boys are in good hands. Let’s leave the hashtags for lighter discussion and use our grown-up words to discuss the serious problems in today’s world and how we are tangibly going to fix them.