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Hashtag Activism

Hashtag Activism

Hashtag campaigns continue to push issues often neglected by the mainstream.

For a long time, catchy slogans were used to gather momentum when people campaigned for elections or marketers introduced new products. That technique may not be obsolete but has certainly taken a back seat in this age of hashtags. A simple hashtag such as #MeToo has spurred a global movement against sexual harassment, highlighting the pervasive power imbalance between men and women.

"#MeToo is unusual because it is essentially a hashtag turned into a social movement on social media platforms," says Abhinav Gupta, Assistant Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Washington.

It went viral on October 15 last year when American actress Alyssa Milano urged victims to speak up and share their experiences of sexual harassment using the hashtag #MeToo. That one tweet opened the floodgates to what turned into a women's movement on social media. According to Facebook, within 24 hours, over 4.7 million people worldwide had used the hashtag, and more than 12 million posts, comments and likes were posted.

#MeToo is not a one-off. Several precedents of hashtag activism led to huge changes or brought key issues to light. The 2017 #WomensMarch was another powerful moment when women united to fight sexism. Back in 2014, the #Icebucketchallenge went viral and helped promote awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and raise donations for research. Other prominent sociopolitical campaigns include #BlackLivesMatter, #UnfairAndLovely and #DefendDACA.

The directness and simplicity of #MeToo helped connect with a larger audience and it went viral. "The speed at which the movement has spread and the way women have got together across the globe would not have been possible had it not been social media where it is easy to like, share and retweet," says Siddharth Deshmukh, Senior Advisor and Adjunct Professor at MICA. "It is a powerful movement for it will also make men conscious and help them understand women in a different context."

#MeToo has reverberated through India Inc. and several employees spoke up against their former bosses. Consequently, the government has formed a Group of Ministers to evaluate the existing frameworks to deal with sexual harassment at workplaces.

It may ensure that companies will no longer sweep these issues under the carpet and fully comply with the Sexual Harassment Act 2013. They should not only form the Internal Complaints Committee but also facilitate speedy resolution. In addition, employees should have a clear understanding of what constitutes harassment. "Companies are highly concerned about their reputation and if their names come up in such cases, it will affect their bottom line, especially if they are consumer-facing businesses," says Gupta.


Published on: Oct 29, 2018, 9:14 AM IST
Posted by: Jatin Kumar, Oct 29, 2018, 9:14 AM IST