The Media Equation: Hashtag Activism, and Its Limits

From The New York Times:

If you “like” something, does that mean you care about it?

It’s an important distinction in an age when you can accumulate social currency on Facebook or Twitter just by hitting the “like” or “favorite” button.

The ongoing referendum on the Web often seems more like a kind of collective digital graffiti than a measure of engagement: I saw this thing, it spoke to me for at least one second, and here is my mark to prove it.

But it gets more complicated when the subjects are more complicated. Hitting the favorite button on the first episode of “Mad Men” is a remarkably different gesture than expressing digital solidarity with kidnapped children in Africa, but it all sort of looks the same at the keyboard.

In the friction-free atmosphere of the Internet, it costs nothing more than a flick of the mouse to register concern about the casualties of far-flung conflicts. Certainly some people are taking up the causes that come out of the Web’s fire hose, but others are most likely doing no more than burnishing their digital avatars.

In February, the digiterati went bonkers after the Susan G. Komen foundation (shorthanded as #Komen on Twitter) announced it was cutting off financing for Planned Parenthood. And then #KONY2012 started popping up in my Twitter feed and I, along with 100 million others, watched a video about the indicted Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony.

After weeks of remaining under the radar, #TrayvonMartin began to surface as well, with many suggesting that the people who got so frantic about the victimization of young black males on another continent needed to look closer to home, at the death of an unarmed black teenager in Florida.

Continue reading the rest of the story on The New York Times