Is the Use of Twitter Hashtags Backfiring?

Twitter users are learning that a hashtag cuts both ways: It can be hijacked or lampooned by detractors, and it's a key way that online activists are pushing back against opposing messages. (Reuters)
Twitter users are learning that a hashtag cuts both ways: It can be hijacked or lampooned by detractors, and it’s a key way that online activists are pushing back against opposing messages. (Reuters)

Standing on the sidewalk outside an imposing downtown church, Michael Corral carried a portable loudspeaker and a handmade wooden cross with an old-fashioned message: “REPENT & BELIEVE.”

“They’re twisting Scripture to see through their sins,” he said, as a group of pro-LGBT evangelicals met inside.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country, conservative activist Eric Teetsel was monitoring the same conference from his home in Kansas, firing off 140-character tweets using the conference hashtag, #TRPinDC.

“I have more respect for those who acknowledge what the Bible says and reject it than those who twist it to serve their goals,” tweeted Teetsel, the executive director of the Manhattan Declaration project, which works to preserve traditional marriage.

It was essentially the same message, but two different mediums and two different audiences. In 2014, activists like Teetsel can reach a far broader audience—3,600 followers in his case, not counting retweets—than streetside evangelists like Corral.

Some leaders use trending topics or hashtags to build momentum around a certain conversation. The idea is that by pointing followers to a catchy hashtag, activists can spark conversation and rally supporters around a cause. On Monday (Nov. 24), for example, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #PrayForFerguson after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer who fatally shot a black teenager.

One of the earlier noteworthy mobilizing campaigns included #KONY2012, a movement founded by a Christian who launched a campaign to try to capture African Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. First Lady Michelle Obama famously participated in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign after more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

But everyone on Twitter is learning that a hashtag cuts both ways: It can be hijacked or lampooned by detractors, and it’s a key way that online activists are pushing back against opposing messages or what some might even call hate speech.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Sarah Pullian Bailey

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