What started out only as a social media feature has taken on a whole new meaning now. In the recent days, all of us have witnessed what hashtags can and can't do. Precisely speaking, in this most recent Israel/Palestine crisis, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have played a far more important role in influencing global public opinion than they did in previous conflicts and hashtags have been a powerful voice of the otherwise unheard masses.
Whereas Israel's side of the story had dominated Western media coverage for nearly half a century, social media has begun to act as an equaliser in terms of bringing out the flipside of the coin. For example, millions of pro-Palestinian hashtags like #SupportGaza #PrayForGaza and #GazaUnderAttack have flooded Facebook and Twitter throughout the duration of the conflict so far and they have reasonably surpassed any pro-Israeli hashtags. Some of us agree to the far reaching effects of hashtags and some don't but none can ignore the fact that millions around the globe have taken up this tool as a means to show support for what they consider a 'humanitarian cause'.
The hashtag's widespread use began with Twitter and in this case, it definitely has the upper hand over other social media platforms like Facebook. Twitter is the fastest-moving social media battleground where breaking news and eyewitness accounts are swiftly altering the course of international relations and negotiations but the difference with Facebook comes down to the fact that people generally use the latter for sharing stuff with friends, not the whole world. So with Facebook users adopting the trend, the first thing one has to think about are the privacy issues. While you still won't be able to access content you don't have permission to, you will be able to find posts and photos much more easily if they were shared with friends of friends or the 'public'. In this respect, the reach of hashtags used in Facebook is smaller and rather insignificant than we would like to think.
Nonetheless, like most other social media activism, it is a well-intentioned initiative. The hashtag has become a representation of union for people who support particular social or political agendas but do not put together complete thoughts or take on physical protest. Political shaming is more than just a 'conference room' term today and leaders are going that extra mile to capitalise social media to gain favouritism. Hence, mass communication channels can help shape future policies for good even if they do not have the ability to make a physical difference.
One of my acquaintances said, “I use hashtags on my photos because it seems cool and saves me the trouble of constructing a full and error-free sentence in English.” However, this isn't the case here, or is it? Has hashtag become the lazy individual's form of siding with the majority without having to spend some time gathering his/her own thoughts?
Have hashtags stopped the bombs being dropped? No. Have they induced enough political shaming that can shape future policies? This, perhaps, is a work in progress.