Is hashtag activism killing grassroots politics?

By Guest contributor 5 September 2014

John Coventry is the Communications Director: UK & Europe at change.org and is speaking at our upcoming event on the future of campaigning.

A turbo-charged global solidarity movement for girls’ education, started in Africa which pushed world leaders into diplomatic action in days. As far as mobilising the grass roots go, you’d be hard pushed to find a clearer example than #bringbackourgirls.

So is “hashtag activism” (bleurgh) killing grassroots politics? No. Of course it isn’t. It’s massively, immeasurably, improving it.

The internet is the most fundamental shift in communication since the printing press. It’s unfathomable why certain members of the commentariat disregard it as a valid—let alone incredibly powerful—platform for people to engage with and change policies.

There’s a funny thing going on. If you want to buy stuff, read the news, find love, talk about parenting, share photos or tweet about your lunch, the internet is an empowering, innovative and open space.

But if you express a view on an important issue and that issue isn’t resolved 24 hours later, it’s dismissed as a waste of time—a reductive, distracting place where “keyboard warriors” (double bleurgh) tweet and share petitions instead of doing the real work of sitting in very long boring public meetings or trudging about in the rain.

Petitions and hashtags don’t change the world. But neither do marches, writing to MPs or chaining yourself to doors as standalone tactics. What does change the world is networks of like minded people doing a range of things that put pressure on the institutions that govern our lives to deliver the change we want to see. The web has made this the very best time in history to be a campaigner. For modern social justice movements to be really successful, we need more online action—not less.