Hashtag activists use the speed of Twitter to quickly amass their ideas into huge protests.
But what good comes of this snowball effect? Just because everyone’s saying it, doesn’t make it true, and the 140-character limit breeds misinterpretation and a lack of accountability.
Just look at the recent #CancelColbert hashtag war, which was an outraged Twitter movement started by activist Suey Park.
If increased credibility to her cause was Park’s intention, the 23-year-old failed miserably.
Park tweeted in response to an out-of-context quote by political satirist Stephen Colbert.
Colbert’s comment was a joke about starting a foundation for sensitivity to Asians: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
Colbert was making fun of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder for wanting to keep “Redskins” in the football team’s name. Snyder started a charity foundation in honor of Native Americans to give the impression that he is sympathetic, despite his refusal to alter the name.
The joke was meant to ridicule Snyder’s foundation by making an even more ridiculous suggestion, but instead started an uproar among confused protestors.
Ignorant mass protests, especially viral ones, weaken an organization’s credibility.
Now, Park’s and other like-minded activist groups’s social media campaigns will be looked at with disdain and mockery.
Those swept up in the #CancelColbert frenzy only made anti-racism efforts appear excessively sensitive and unable to discern irony from actual racism.
The Twitter-based protest distracted attention from Colbert’s original point. “Redskins” is offensive to Native Americans, and was the real instance of racism, not Colbert’s comment.
Stephen Marche of “Esquire” even claimed the #CancelColbert hashtag was “perhaps the stupidest hashtag movement in history.”
The latest crack at #CancelColbert starters on Twitter are tweets that they “won” or “got their way” after Colbert announced his intention to take over “The Late Show” once David
Letterman retires from the show.
Colbert said it best in responding to the controversy. “Who would have thought a means of communication limited to 140 characters would ever create misunderstandings?” he asked.
That is not to say there’s no point to hashtag activism or that it is not a useful tool for discussing important issues–just look at hashtags aimed at the “Occupy” protests.
There’s no denying the power of social media movements, but danger lies in the capacity for ignorant viewpoints to be hugely amplified in the span of a few hours.
Helen Lee can be reached at email@example.com