May 13, 2014 7:35 pm

Social media engagement leads to wave of ‘hashtag activism’

Watch the video above: #Hashtag activism

SASKATOON – Commercial and celebrity-based topics have successfully landed themselves on the trending list on Twitter on countless occasions, but a wave of social media activism has prompted users to harness the power of the hashtag.

It has been nearly a month since a group of  Nigerian school girls was abducted. Since then, more have been taken while others have managed to escape from their captors.

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The story quickly garnered attention at home, but the international community was slow to respond.

Activists looking to create awareness about what was going on needed a way to spread the message.

#BringBackOurGirls has since taken on a life of its own.

From first lady Michelle Obama’s widely ‘retweeted’ and ‘favourited’ tweet to singer Alicia Keys and actress Jessica Biel, the once humble hashtag has become a more powerful device than most first anticipated.

“A hashtag was initially so you could search or talk about a significant topic,” explains Albert C Jame, Zu digital strategist.

“Anybody could search and they could have their own search string of all those topics.”

#Kony2012 was another hashtag that went viral.

Amnesty International describes the Kony 2012 campaign on its website as having “exploded into a global phenomenon – engaging over 70 million people in less than 48 hours.”

Thousands were killed, abducted, enslaved and raped since the armed conflict began between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government, according to Amnesty International.

“I think we’ve seen with #BringBackOurGirls that having millions of people from around the world using the same hashtag has created this sense of a global movement,” explains Jacqueline Hansen, with Amnesty International in Ottawa.

“It’s really sounded the alarm bell, raised awareness and quite frankly, I think it’s forced governments to take this issue seriously.”

While initial engagement is vital, Hansen considers it an entry point.

“It needs to be part of a broader strategy,” she tells Global News.

“This is something that we, as activists, are struggling with and we’re challenged by. We know problems don’t go away when the cameras turn away and when something is no longer trending.”

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