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Hashtag Activism Has Profound Psychological Effects On Movement Creators & Participants

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, June 5 2014

Screenshot of a #NotYourTigerLily tweet

It has become quite trendy these days to downplay or mock hashtag activism, or what many dismiss as “slacktivism.” The takeaway from the Thursday morning session on “The Internet's Double-Edged Sword” at Personal Democracy Forum, however, was that even seemingly small actions play an important role in movement building, especially on the psychological level.

Artist, writer and technologist An Xiao Mina began by explaining microactions: microaggressions and their lesser-known counterpoint, microaffirmations. Microactions are small acts—Facebook likes and shares, Twitter favorites or retweets—that can have a profound emotive effect. Even a cat video has an emotive component, Mina points out.

Where microaggressions contribute to and reinforce oppression, microaffirmations—like tweeting support for hashtags like #notyourmascot or #notyourtigerlily—build community. “It's not about the individual action,” Mina explained, “but about the cumulative.” Relentless micro- and macroaggressions require microaffirmations “to give us emotional fuel.”

A microaffirmation “shows people they're not alone, jumps temporal and geographic bounds, [and] forms the basis for weak ties which can form the basis for strong ties.”

In many ways Emily Parker, author of the book Now I Know Who My Comrades Are, echoed An Xiao Mina when she spoke shortly after about the ways in which the Internet can combat the tools of authoritarian governments: isolation, fear and apathy. She pointed to Alexey Navalny, who showed Russians “that they could fight corruption from the convenience of their living room, and win.”

“Of course a Facebook like is not the same as on the ground protest,” Parker said, “but it still has an important psychological effect.”

“Social media alone will not light that spark [of revolution]...the good news is that the Internet can help transform a country without revolution.”

Finally, Zeynep Tufekci joked that we should pretend to take slacktivism seriously, to throw authoritarian governments off the scent. But too late. “Authoritarians aren't fooled by [the idea of] slacktivism,” she said, otherwise they wouldn't be so hard on the Internet.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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