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Hashtag activism is not a new concept and even if you’ve never heard of it before, it’s still very likely that you’ve participated in supporting or denouncing one.

A term coined by British daily newspaper The Guardian, hashtag activism is the act of fighting for a cause that people are advocating through social media. By using a designated hashtag, you’re joining in the conversation.

Recent events of national concern have prompted its frequent usage.

The past few months have been intense for local netizens and the Twitterverse. Apart from the usual rants, jokes and random tweets, it was filled with the netizen’s sentiments on LGBTQ+++ rights with #HereTogether, calling on LTFRB not to suspend transport network companies with #WeWantUberGrab, #JusticeForKian and #StopTheKillings on Kian Loyd Delos Santos’ unlawful death at the hands of the police in the current drug war, #FireMocha to oust PCOO Asec. Mocha Uson for tweeting erroneous information for the nth time, #JusticeForHoracio on the death of UST law student Horacio Castillo due to hazing, and #NeverAgain on the 45th anniversary of the Martial Law declaration.

But apart from trending online and people letting off their steam on these heated issues, the question is: Can it really do anything at all?

Apparently, it can do some things, but not everything.

For one, hashtag activism raises awareness. It also creates and connects communities.

At the Pride March and Festival 2017 last June, the LGBTQ community came together and raised concerns over still-present and still-persistent discrimination in the workplace and in the society based on their sexual orientation. With the #HereTogether, members and supporters of the community united in calling for the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill, aimed at protecting their basic human rights.

This, and partly with efforts of legislators, resulted to the unanimous voting of the Lower House on its third and final reading, the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) Equality Act. The ADB, however – the Senate’s version of the bill – is still pending second reading.

Hashtag activism pools stories and fosters discussion.

LTFRB’s aggressive sanctions towards ride-sharing companies Grab and Uber because of allowing some of their drivers to operate without franchise prompted the #WeWantUberGrab. Multiple stories of passengers shared how comfortable they were going to and from their destinations via Grab and Uber as opposed to taxis who can be rude and overpriced. But the Grab-Uber-LTFRB mess all led to the one problem everyone has been avoiding: our country’s inefficient public transport system.

Terrible traffic, unreliable train systems, and unfair taxis naturally make people search for an alternative that’s safer, which they obviously found in the said ride-sharing vehicles. LTFRB later suspended Uber for 3 months and fined with P190 million, but a better public transportation system is still far away.

It also attempts to drive social change.

When news broke out about 17-year-old student Kian Loyd Delos Santos’ death, many expressed shock, disbelief and anger over Caloocan police forces who supposedly dragged him in a dark alley, gave him a gun, instructed to fire it and run. The #JusticeForKian and #StopTheKillings soon topped the local trends list. How could those who are tsaked to protect and serve kill an innocent, young man who was just put to close down their shop?

With much public clamor and compelling evidences including a CCTV footage and witnesses, the Senate opened an investigation into Kian’s death. A number of Caloocan police authorities were also charged with murder complaints. But Kian will forever be a 17-year-old who once dreamed of being a cop while PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa boasts that only one case of extra-judicial killing has so far occurred in the government’s war on drugs.

Hashtags in social media are a great way to organize. Like-minded people find each other faster.

Remember the Million People March Against Pork Barrel back in August 2013 with the #MillionPeopleMarch and #ScrapPork? While it was not successful in gathering a million Filipinos at the Luneta Park, it was one of the first social media-powered movement the country has witnessed. Over a hundred thousand people wearing white shirts showed up calling to completely abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) where mastermind Janet Napoles and legislators stole a whopping P10 billion. However, no effective reform was put in place. We all know what went down with P-Noy’s Development Assistance Fund.

Many critics who consider hashtag activism as ‘slack-tivism’, with mere slackers who only ever protest online, argue that advocating views and causes online can be a good start, but that it would not yield changes unless not put into action.

It seems the late Senator Miriam Santiago thinks the same way: the youth should go beyond social media if they wanted to make a meaningful change in society.

In a speech she delivered at the Ateneo De Manila University back in 2014, the senator pointed out the weakness of what she called ‘new media activism’ in long-term strategic thinking, collective organization, and issue-specific sustained advocacy.

“It (new media) has often failed to produce results. What has the ‘Million People March’ in Luneta achieved with respect to government reforms?” she said. “Technolo0gy is a neutral variable and has its strengths and weaknesses. Twitter and Facebook are effective only to a certain degree,” she continued.

She did agree however that it could be strong on rapid mobilization, urging the students to participate in protest events and direct actions; advocacy campaigns to change the policies and behavior of institutions; and information gathering and to attract media attention and raise public consciousness.

What are your thoughts on hashtag activism and do you think it drives change in the society?

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