Hashtag Activism’ the Cure to Youth Apathy?


My generation is always accused of being lazy, spoiled and apathetic. Our parents grew up in a time of change, when protesting was the thing to do. In some of their eyes, Millennials, or people born between the late 1970s and early 2000s, don’t care about anything. We just want more. Faster Internet, free music, less rules, more money. Our palms are always open and our bottoms always planted firmly on the couch.

But times are starting to change. It’s as if we’ve suddenly realized that our parents’ time of action is over – that it’s time for us to step up and fix the world around us rather than wait for the “real” grownups to do it.

Arguably, the first murmurings about a new generation of activists started with last year’s “Arab Spring” as protests in Tunisia and Egypt captivated the world’s attention. Young people starting a revolution by using social media. It was the birth of hashtag activism, with popular trending topics making public opinion increasingly harder to ignore. 

When Troy Davis’s execution was drawing near, hashtag activists flooded Twitter timelines and Facebook newsfeeds with rants about the case. Davis had been on death row since 1989. It was so long that many seemed to have believed that the day of his execution would never come. They rushed to defend him, saying there was too much doubt surrounding his case to warrant an execution.

They posted phone numbers for the Georgia Pardons Board, urging people to call and demand that Davis’s execution be cancelled.

They protested. College students were arrested for refusing to follow police’s orders during a demonstration in front of the White House. When the topic didn’t trend on Twitter, they accused Twitter of refusing to allow it to do so, saying the trending topics were biased. #Stuffhoodratssay could trend any day of the week, but #TroyDavis was too taboo?

The Planned Parenthood vs. Susan G. Komen debacle has been one of the most impressive displays of modern-day protest. When word spread that the Susan G. Komen Foundation was attempting to defund Planned Parenthood because the organization was under investigation by Congress, many women were furious. They believed this to be a political, anti-abortion move that would prevent Planned Parenthood from providing non-abortion related services, like mammograms, for example. Counterproductive.

The outrage spread on Facebook and Twitter so fast that Planned Parenthood was able to raise over $650,000 in a single day. 

Add that to the fact that Susan G. Komen is still missing out on donations as a result of that mistake. 

But most impressive of all has been the overwhelming support and dedication in the name of Trayvon Martin.  The news of the 17-year-old boy’s death at the hands of a neighborhood watch volunteer – who wasn’t arrested because of an unpopular law – didn’t reach the public sphere until quite some time after his death, but once it did it was intense.

With the help of black radio and reporters, Martin’s death became national news in early March. Internet-savvy Millennials took to social networking sites to express their outrage and post pictures of themselves wearing hoodies online. Every media outlet was forced to pay attention to the case in some form or fashion. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, joined Twitter to further spread the word.

And now, George Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder. Because this generation, those young and lazy people, tweeted, reblogged, and posted info about the case relentlessly for over a month. 

So, apathy? What apathy?