AmericanMusical (2016) Twitter
The use of digital protest, particularly on platforms such as Twitter, has become increasingly popularized as a means for users to respond to events, incidents, and public figures. Bonilla and Rosa (2015) noted that such protests could offer an experience of real-time engagement, community, and collective enthusiasm that can be akin to participating in a physical protest. While such protests can be both positive and negative, depending on the nature of their use, examples such as #Ferguson and #Repealthe8th demonstrate their potential for benefitting the wider society.
In the case of #Ferguson, the predominant usage of the hashtag was to democratize information in real-time, with users feeling as if they were participating in the events as they monitored incidents through live streams. However, despite the heightened awareness generated through the hashtag, the effects on the justice system were not seen. This highlights the limitations of digital protests in effecting legal change.
In contrast, the #Repealthe8th campaign demonstrates the potential for digital protests to influence legislative change. The campaign used the hashtag to insert bodily autonomy into debates concerning the 8th Amendment, which sought to prioritize the rights of female autonomy over pregnancy. The campaign generated significant influence, ultimately resulting in the repealing of the 8th Amendment. This demonstrates the potential for digital protests to be utilized more broadly and more effectively in generating social and legislative change.
While the use of digital protests on platforms such as Twitter can offer an experience of real-time engagement and collective enthusiasm, their effectiveness in effecting legal change can be limited.
It is important to conduct careful and nuanced analyses of social media data to avoid making overgeneralizations or assumptions about the meaning and impact of hashtag use. Anthropologists and other researchers must consider how different users engage with social media platforms, the context in which tweets are produced and shared, and the potential biases and limitations of social media data. By doing so, they can better understand how social media shapes public discourse and activism and how broader social, cultural, and political contexts influence these processes.
Bonilla, Y. and Rosa, J. (2015) #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States. American Ethnologist. Volume 42, Issue 1. https://doi-org.ezproxy.brighton.ac.uk/10.1111/amet.12112
Walsh, H. (2020). Hanging Our Knickers Up Asserting Autonomy and Cross-Border Solidarity in the #RepealThe8th Campaign. Feminist Review, 124(1), 144–151. Hanging Our Knickers Up: Asserting Autonomy and Cross-Border Solidarity in the #RepealThe8th Campaign – Helena Walsh, 2020 (brighton.ac.uk)