Twitter hashtags that follow tragedies are pointless

Sarah Schmidt // Contributor

In the days following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the hashtag #PrayForVegas almost instantly became a widespread rallying cry for netizens. The trending tag dominated Twitter and Instagram feeds, and as per data retrieved from Keyhole, #PrayForVegas is still getting tweeted hundreds of times per day, more than two weeks after the terror attack.

While the increasingly popular “Pray For” hashtag template may often come from well-meaning sources, it has become overused and has proven that without actual legislation, internet activism is only good for social media likes and not real change or support.

In a 2014 Maclean’s article, the issue of following activism trends on social media is argued to be more counterproductive than fruitful. When #bringbackourgirls was done trending, the 276 women who had gone missing in Nigeria had yet to been found.

For many participants of social media activism, the belief is that sharing your voice across social networking platforms will help drive change, but until governmental intervention actually happens, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts will just get lost in social media’s massive community.

The terror attack in Las Vegas earlier this month is deeply connected to the United States’ contentious gun control problem, an issue that will most certainly take ground-breaking legislation to address. Yet there are other tragedies that become popular avenues for social media activism that don’t necessarily have to involve a change in laws.

Hashtags such as #PrayForMexico, #PrayForPuertoRico and #PrayForHouston are some of the popular social media trends that came to life this year, and while showing moral support and solidarity to the victims of natural tragedies can be meaningful, tweets are still just tweets.

Parts of the world that are stricken by unavoidable tragedies need more than written support on social media, they need real, tangible help. Food and water needs to be donated, infrastructures need to be rebuilt and health aids need to be provided – and none of these can be delivered through #praying.

Despite the amount of negative press that social activism receives, it is understandable that social media is ultimately the most popular way to gather information. A 2015 Huffington Post article argues that there are real benefits to social media activism. It can be the fastest way to spread news and can avoid the bias of corporate owned media outlets.

After the Las Vegas shooting, thanks largely to social media, news of the tragedy spread quickly. The local community went to the scene of the massacre to give victims of the event rides to their homes, hotels and hospitals. The number of people who lined up to donate blood was tremendous – even though The Red Cross has been advertising for years, asking for individuals to donate blood and become organ donors.

Though social media can efficiently raise awareness about particular events, it can also create a general apathy in some people. In Vancouver alone, we seem to forget that we have a rising homeless population; that women, men and children are getting abused in their homes; and oppression is still holding back the minorities that make up our communities. It appears that the only time anyone is willing to get out and help is if they can get a cool post about it to brag to their friends.

Every ensuing “Pray For” hashtag that becomes popular won’t achieve anything different than any of its predecessors. Simply showing “support” in the wake of tragedies doesn’t mean much, and certainly won’t accomplish any real change. Without inciting actual movements that can get the attention of governments, a tweet is ultimately just a tweet.

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