WEB EXCLUSIVE: Social Stirrups — When did hashtag movements become more important than the stories they represent?


Social Stirrups — Analyzing our online social world is a brand new web exclusive column, in which Kendra Nelson delves into the hidden meanings of our online social media world. Check back soon for more bi-weekly content!


[dropcap]R[/dropcap]inging in every new year allows us to reminisce on the social media events that transpired over the last 365 days. With 2016 now well underway, I can’t help but notice most of what last year presented in the form of a hashtag. This is emphasized especially by websites and TV shows that prominently tell us which hashtag trends were most popular throughout the year.

The biggest moments of 2015 seem to have occurred in the online world, rather than the physical one. What does that mean for us? What does it say about the direction our generation is taking?

I can remember as a child in the early ‘90s that during the holiday season, the Edmonton Journal would publish a special issue filled with photographs from the year, highlighting major news and events that took place. On Christmas Day the media would essentially take a break, as no newspaper was delivered that day. The Internet was still in its Web 1.0 version and was not yet the driving force it is today. The emphasis was on the here and now — the physical world.

Jumping to today’s media environment, these hashtag events started off the way any regular old-fashioned news would: with a physical story. However, it seems that what overshadows the story itself is the online dialogue spread and shared on social media. People are now more aware of #blacklivesmatter, #thedress, and #ParisAttacks than they are of the stories behind them. It seems we are all guilty of jumping from one #SocialJustice to another #Opinion without much of a thought.

The #blacklivesmatter movement gained popularity this year on social media.
The #blacklivesmatter trend gained popularity this year on social media. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)


I am not knocking the idea of social media, but I’m having a harder time believing in the masses as becoming responsible and informed citizens as a result of it. Jumping on each of these social media bandwagons is not conducive to truth; it dilutes democratic information and thus breeds ignorance.

Though I am not going to go as far as to argue that not all people are becoming more ignorant, but the fact that we are currently arguing over how a dog would wear pants raises some serious red flags for me regarding the manner in which we choose which information is spread and shared.

Prominent trends such as #thedress distort our perceptions of what is useful information. (Photo credit: Twitter)
Prominent trends such as #thedress distort our perceptions of what is useful information. (Photo credit: Twitter)


We cannot ignore that social media has given us increased power to bring to light important social issues. It’s an anomaly of sorts, bringing us together whilst simultaneously separating us further as people. The ‘60s had been accused of doing much the same thing, with the Black Panthers civil rights movement, the second wave of feminism, and other various movements pushed people away by fighting for rights.

While Web 2.0 has given us a platform to discuss what matters to us, is arguing back and forth between tweets and status updates constructive? Or is it merely distracting us from seeing the big picture of our current society? I can’t help but feel we are missing out on key information that lingers in the background as our phones flash hashtags in the foreground.

I can’t conclude this article in a neat and tidy way, tying up all these loose ends. I would, though, invoke in you a responsibility to think about how you decipher social media, and how you question trends, popular opinion, and what you allow the media world of hashtags to surround you with.