Once upon a time, when people were dissatisfied with actions their government leaders were or weren’t taking, they would stage a protest. Then came the idea of getting signatures on a petition. Now you can start a Hashtag campaign as well.
The modern Hashtag campaign was borne out of frustration and the feeling that there is a problem to be solved, and yet there is no one acting to solve it. Whether the problem is #UnitedBreaksGuitars or something with Human Rights implications, like #BringBackOurGirls, the ones tweeting generally cannot affect the actual change they want to see so they are demanding action from those who can.
Belittled by some as “the very least they could do”, in the case of the Nigerian schoolgirls who’ve been kidnapped, those champions of the hashtag felt the girls’ plight was being ignored by leaders around the world and that only greater public awareness would bring more scrutiny, and therefore action.
How can a tweet help? True, one stand-alone 140-character demand might be ignored, but it’s not so easy to ignore when there are hundreds or thousands. After 3.3 Million Tweets (according to the BBC), apparently people took notice.
There is always a tipping point, even with the old-school petition: look no further than the White House’s Death Star incident. It was either a triumph of the will of the (silly, nerdy) people or a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, depending on your point of view, but the point is that when enough people get together and make their opinions known, then someone will have to respond.
In the case of the White House petition system, the threshold was a clearly-defined 100,000 signatures within 30 days. With Twitter? It’s much more nebulous number. But clearly, in my opinion, that number has been reached.
Whether it was reached the sheer volume of tweets or by a celebrity passing it along, #BringBackOurGirls has succeeded in keeping the issue alive and assuring it is being talked about in the media.