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Thursday, May 28 • 10:20am - 11:35am
Hashtag Activism as Interventionist Practice in the Digital Age

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Digital activism often makes use of contemporary new and social media. Such spaces have become locations where the voiceless oppressed can challenge a systemically violent hierarchy. In particular, “hashtag activism” is becoming a vogue—if not definitionally troublesome—term to describe types of activism seemingly exclusive to contemporary new and social media, like Twitter and Facebook. In The Question Concerning Technology, Martin Heidegger argues that technology reveals something about human nature. If Heidegger is accurate, “hashtag activism” must reveal something about its participants. Moreover, such activism should reveal something that is not revealed or revealed differently by traditional activism.

In addition to providing a critical discussion of hashtag activism, as well as its situatedness within the Digital Humanities and intersecting fields, Presenter 1 rhetorically analyzes and visualizes contemporary online discourse marked by the use of two specific Twitter hashtags: #YesAllWomen and #GamerGate. This presentation works to address the following questions: What does hashtag activism reveal about human nature? How do activists use contemporary social media to affect social justice change? In what ways does social media afford and constrain the speed and reach of social movements?

Presenters 2 and 3 take up the inquiry into hashtag activism within feminist movements. There is a perception that online feminism is, at worst, navel-gazing and, at best, a kind of “slacktivism” that takes little effort or commitment. However, Stacey Sowards and Valerie Renegear explain that the “exigencies of contemporary feminism have created a demand for different kinds of activism that may include and/or differ from the traditional rhetorical options of protest, confrontation, militancy, conflict, counterpublics, and social movements” (59), particularly for young feminists.

This presentation examines the possibilities for feminist activism specifically through the #feministsareugly movement. #feministsareugly is a trend supposedly challenging contemporary beauty norms for women and was largely taken up with selfies and celebrity photos contesting the notion that feminists are ugly or critiquing the idea that beauty matters. Using a grounded theory approach, the presenters identify and quantify the key traits of a sample of tweets when the hashtag reemerged in April 2015 due to a Twitter error. Describing the characteristics of the tweets reveals the strategies and outcomes of individuals using social media to engage in digital activism. Initial findings suggest that this movement has been more problematic than productive, although certain uses of the hashtag have potential for feminist intervention in persistent social inequalities.

avatar for Trent Kays

Trent Kays

Assistant Professor, Hampton University
Writer, rhetorician, & internet researcher. HBCU Prof. Intellectual nomad. Polemicist. Buddhist. Queer. Volunteer. Uncle. I aim to misbehave. Don't panic.
avatar for Kristi McDuffie

Kristi McDuffie

Illinois State University
avatar for Devon Fitzgerald Ralston

Devon Fitzgerald Ralston

Visiting Assistant Professor, Miami University
I teach writing, research social media, data and activism. I currently teach digital composition courses at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I earned my Ph.D. in Rhetoric & Composition with a focus on New Media Studies and Professional Writing from Illinois State University in 2008... Read More →

Designated Tweeters
avatar for Kim Lacey

Kim Lacey


Thursday May 28, 2015 10:20am - 11:35am EDT
Room 104 Kellogg Center

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