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#BringBackOurGirls, #YesAllWomen and hashtag activism

The humanitarian and advocate for girls' education, Malala Yousafzai, holds a #BringBackOurGirls sign.

Social media is undergoing the same criticism to which any new technology is subjected. People opposed television -- and some still do -- claiming that it causes ADHD, impaired brain development, obesity and even early death. Multiple organizations comprised of millions of people, such as MAVAV, purport that video games make people racist, abusive and violent. Now, countless studies claim that social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, cause people to be depressed, egocentric, and antisocial and contribute to various states of mental instability. Everyone loves a good doom-and-gloom story, but there is more to it than that.

Social media gives people a voice in things that matter to them. Whether it's reuniting lost pets with their families or embarrassing lawmakers into reversing ridiculous policies like banning blankets for the homeless, ordinary people can express their concerns without the danger of being pepper-sprayed for holding a peaceful protest. Twitter and Facebook in particular are now a virtual battleground for "hashtag activism," which has attracted millions of supporters but equally as many critics.

Perhaps the most widely used -- and widely criticized -- hashtag is #BringBackOurGirls, the rallying cry to rescue the 276 (now 223) Nigerian girls that were kidnapped to be sold into slavery. Fox News mocked the use of this hashtag, calling it "useless" and "an exercise in self esteem," arguing that terrorists won't respond to a hashtag and it enables lazy people to feel like they have contributed to a cause. These straw man arguments aside, conservative pundits missed the point: the parents of these kidnapped students were largely ignored by their own government. It took an aggressive use of social media for the rest of the world to even notice the girls were kidnapped in the first place. It was because of a simple hashtag campaign that a few hundred people were empowered to bring worldwide attention to this horrific incident.

At the time of this article's publication, the most popular trending hashtag is #YesAllWomen. The birth of this hashtag campaign is a little more complicated. Elliot Rodger, the Californian mass murderer, left a 137-page document detailing his perceived unfair treatment at the hands of "rich kids," "popular kids" and women. According to CNN, Rodger was particularly grieved that he remained a virgin at 22 years old and longed to be rich so that women would love him. Even though three of his six victims were male, many have called his crime "gender violence" and "a crime of misogyny." Social media users have raged about everything from rape culture to unequal pay in the wake of the massacre, prompting the creation of the #NotAllMen hashtag. Accompanying the use of this hashtag are sincere frustrations, such as this one from Henry J. Lahman:

The most disturbing part about something like ‪#‎YesAllWomen‬ is how quickly it's forgotten that ‪#‎NotAllMen‬ are the problem and how quickly the blame rests solely on 'men', not 'some men' but 'men'. Just like ‪#‎KillAllMen‬ is somehow more acceptable than reminders that ‪#‎YesSomeMen‬ are victims of the same issues #YesAllWomen are generally about. If you want to do something to stop sexism or rape culture, great, but sexism is not the solution. Just because I attack sexist attacks of sexism, doesn't mean I'm in favor of sexism, it's mainly a matter of what affects me and what I can see from my PoV. I don't live life as a woman so I wouldn't know, but being a man, I can tell you when something you purport of all men is wrong.

The general response from users of the #YesAllWomen hashtag is that while "not all men are the problem, all women" have experienced objectification or sexual harassment during their lives at the hands of men. Women have responded with tweets about personal experiences of rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment.

#YesAllWomen does not seem to be gaining the same amount of steam as #BringBackOurGirls. Pulling up its Twitter feed reveals a constant back-and-forth flame war between the users of #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen, loaded down with name-calling, trolling and ranting.

Make no mistake: There are serious issues of sexism that should have been addressed decades ago, including domestic violence, sexual harassment and objectification. But #YesAllWomen doesn't seem to inspiring the kind of dialogue we so desperately need.

What makes #BringBackOurGirls an effective hashtag campaign while #YesAllWomen seems to be so ineffective? Perhaps there is no clear answer to that, but one thing is certain: hashtag activism is here to stay.

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