Are Hashtags Enough?

Are Hashtags Enough?

The twitterverse is no stranger to hashtag-calls-for-action, spanning from #free an arrested activist to #stop a particular piece of legislation from moving forward. The most well-known example of a hashtag campaign was the one to stop SOPA and PIPA legislations in the United States. Despite the lack of coverage of these proposed laws on traditional media, mobilization spurred through social media was effective to build a full-on campaign that ended up stopping the passage of this legislation. Recently, NGOs and other civil society actors have been trying to capitalize on this success to try and stop the passage of other internet-restrictive laws, such as in Malaysia (#Stop114A) and in Jordan (#BlackoutJo).

While the revisions to section 114a in Malaysia’s Evidence Act and the proposed amendment to the Press and Publication Law in Jordan are alive and well, the online mobilizations to stop them can still teach us some valuable lessons in use of social media in the campaigns.

Grabbing the attention of “decision makers” is important in any social media campaign. In Malaysia, the prime minister tweeted that he would encourage the reassessment of this amendment, and MPs have an opportunity to revisit the amendment prior to the next parliamentary meeting, which could be as soon as the next few days. In Jordan, Queen Noor expressed her opposition to the proposed law on Twitter, as did the former ICT Minister of Jordan on Facebook. While this verbal expressions are not enough to actual change, gathering enough supportive voices, especially from politically influential individuals, may be able to shift public perception and strengthen a campaign.   

In addition, drawing in support from other constituencies (in this case, from the technology community) can help raise awareness about the issue to a broader audience. Repeating the same message to existing supporters does not have the same multiplier effect as one that draws interest from new individuals. In particular, it’s difficult to ignore the message of the campaign on a blacked-out version of your favorite website. Most importantly, finding ways to maintain the energy drawn up by the campaign should also be considered. Despite the setback in Jordan in the passage of this law, supporters of the #freenetjo movement have conducted attention-getting public demonstrations, such as a mock-funeral signaling the death of internet freedom in Jordan, and the Stop114A Facebook page is still active.  

What do you think?  What is the role of hashtag/twitter mobilizations in such campaigns? Are there others worth noting?