Twitter is “what’s happening in the world and what people are talking about right now” (Twitter, 2019). The platform is an American microblogging and social networking service. The site was first launched publicly on March 21, 2006, by Co-founders Jack Dorsey a computer programmer, internet entrepreneur, and current chairman of the board, Christopher ‘Biz’ Stone an entrepreneur, film director, and founder of various internet-based services, Evan Williams a computer programmer and internet entrepreneur and Noah Glass a software developer. In 2017, Twitter’s CMO Leslie Berlan clarified what the platform’s key aim is, stating that it’s the place to go “to see what is happening.” (Kapko, 2017) As of 2019’s first quarter, Twitter has an average of 330 million Monthly Active Users -MAU- and 139 million Daily Active Users – DAU- with an average of 500 million Tweets per day (Clement, 2019). 34% of Twitter users are female and 66% are male with 262 million users, which is 79% of Twitter accounts, coming from outside of the United States (Aslam, 2019)
Similar to other social media platforms, Twitter’s signup simply requires users to enter their name and email address or phone number, once they have signed up, they can choose a username to go by. As of 26 September 2019 at 7:57 EDT, Twitter’s share price is at $41.35 USD – $61.19 AUD – having seen a -4.09% drop in the past month.
What is digital activism?
Digital activism is defined as “the use of electronic technology, such as social media, email or websites, in order to fundraise, lobby governments or raises awareness among a specific audience” (Herbert, 2016). According to Joyce (2012), there are six functions of digital activism, shaping public opinion,
Social media and the internet have changed the way people engage and participate in activism, with Twitter and the hashtag allowing for a transformation in modern-day activism. Digital platforms like Twitter “have become essential tools for 21st-century social movements” (Freelon, McIlwain, & Clark, 2016)
One of the first cases of digital activism is the Arab Spring. In late December 2010 protests started in Tunisia after street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself alight. Known as the ‘Jasmine Revolution’, it eventually led the country’s authoritarian President Zine al-Abidine bin Ali to abdicate and flee to Saudi Arabia.
The Arab Spring is considered to be one of the first cases where activists used social media to incite change. Social media platforms such as Twitter were used by activists to spread information and organize protests around the world. It could be argued that Arab Spring changed the way activists used social media, specifically Twitter and the hashtag, the protests revolutionized the use of the hashtag, as it was the first time it had been used for political engagement across social media.
Introduced to Twitter in 2007, the hashtag changed and transformed the way people used the platform. “Twitter hashtags are able to bring together a community of interest around identified themes and events and channel the relevant tweets posted by members of that community into a unified stream of updates.” (Bruns & Highfield, 2014, p.33). Yang (2016) defines hashtag activism as “discursive protest on social media united through a hashtagged word, phrase or sentence”.
Hashtag Activism is “the act of supporting a cause that is being advocated through social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and other Networking sites” (Hill, 2014). Recently, hashtag activism has become the popular way in which people, activists and celebrities get their message out and ignite change.
In October 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano renewed the MeToo movement by tweeting “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write #metoo”, this hashtag was used over 200,000 times in 24 hours, sexual assault survivors who felt encouraged by Milano’s tweet to share their story did so using the hashtag. #BlackLivesMatter and #Metoo are just some examples of how hashtag activism can be successful
However, since its inception, hashtag activism, digital activism, and online activists have come under much scrutiny, with many arguing against digital activism and activists. ‘Slacktivism’ is a term first coined by Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted published in The New Yorker in 2010. Hill (2014) argues that digital activism is a lazy form of activism, with Morozov describing slacktivism as “what happens when the energy of otherwise dedicated activists is wasted on approaches that are less effective than the alternatives (Milne, 2019).