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Hashtag takeovers and co-opting trends

By Dhruv Anish and Natalie Gao Mar. 17, 2021


[With] roughly 900 million people in 2020 now using online platforms to influence real-life events, mass media has become largely influential in counterculture movements.

The rise of social media sites such as Reddit, Twitter and Instagram have expanded the ways people can express their opinions and stay informed about current events, as well as connect with each other globally. According to the Pew Research Center, with roughly 900 million people in 2020 now using online platforms to influence real-life events, mass media has become largely influential in counterculture movements.

Counterculture, which refers to ideas and movements that oppose existing norms, emerged in the U.S. with the hippie movement in the 1960s as a response to racial segregation and the Vietnam War, setting a precedent for future activism. With the internet, activism became more widespread via social media, and global users have been able to reach a larger audience without being restricted to newspapers, as noted by Legal Anthropology Professor Ronald Niezen at McGill University.


International outcry

Internationally, media has been utilized to garner mass support for political co-option movements. During the Arab Spring in 2010, millions of tweets, videos and posts under the hashtag #ArabSpring allowed people to create collective action for democracy throughout the Middle East, as noted in a study by the University of Washington. Moreover, in April of 2015, Rodrigo Rato, Spanish Finance Minister, was arrested for tax and shareholder fraud after secretly spending government money and lying to shareholders about the Spanish Bank losing money, as stated by BBC News. By using the internet to find more information on Rato’s false claims, members behind the #15mpaRato movement compiled evidence and used Twitter to organize protests against the Spanish Bank, leading to a civil lawsuit in Spain’s Supreme Court.


K-pop fan-power

Recently in the U.S., there have also been several instances of users taking over threads and hashtags to generate support for causes, as well as joining communities that challenge established norms. Last year in June, Korean pop music (K-pop) fans and TikTok users sabotaged Donald Trump’s presidential rally in Tulsa, Okla., by spreading posts on Twitter and TikTok that encouraged others to claim online tickets and not show up. This contributed to the skewing of expected attendance numbers, with less than half the event venue being filled up. In the same month, K-pop fans conspired over the internet to prevent the Dallas Police Department from shutting down Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. By flooding the iWatchDallas app with video clips of their favorite idols, the police force was unable to locate protestors and to deploy officers to break up the ongoing demonstrations.


Co-opting hateful hashtags

Co-opting can also be used to take over hateful tags, as shown when Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s supporters hijacked #AOClied, a tag aimed at ridiculing the politician’s fears over the Capitol riot, with pictures of their pets wearing costumes. In conjunction, K-pop fans co-opted #AOClied by causing it to overflow with K-pop-related content, and have utilized the same tactic to counter anti-BLM hashtags on social media such as #whitelivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter.

Likewise, the economy has been affected by media-based co-option as well. This January, members of Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets online forum organized mass purchases of GameStop stocks, motivated to ridicule hedge fund owners who short sell—trading stocks that are predicted to decline and rebuying it at a lower price—and subvert the societal expectation that the wealthy brokers of Wall Street have more power than everyday citizens. Redditors’ act of driving up the price and forcing short sellers to purge their stocks at a loss led some to identify the event as a clash between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, according to Yahoo Finance. Others, such as the wife of Justin Speak, a California pastor, blatantly labeled the intent of the movement as one to “eat the rich,” as found by the New York Times.

Quincy Han Art


“Digital activism has had a large impact on the educational advocacy group, Generation Up (Genup), that I am a part of. For instance, Genup’s mobilization over passing statewide legislation to mandate ethnic studies was greatly aided by the high user engagement of our Genup Instagram post. Social media accounts of advocacy groups are some of the best resources in unifying people around political change,” Junior Iris Zhou said.


By harnessing media algorithms and publishing posts that feature pop culture references, these pages are able to spread their messages more effectively than they used to.

The New Yorker noted that social media co-opting gives people who are excluded from elite media spaces—such as newspapers and television channels—a chance to discuss social issues with a large audience, allowing counterculture ideas to become well known. In 2020, Pew Research Center found that the number of people behind these movements has also increased in recent years—36 percent of social media accounts were used to show support for a cause in 2020, while 34 percent did the same in 2018.


36 percent of social media accounts were used to show support for a cause in 2020

In order for social media pages to attract larger audiences, they employ several methods, including Google integration, which uses keywords to classify content, hashtagging and sharing weblinks and memes. By harnessing media algorithms and publishing posts that feature pop culture references, these pages are able to spread their messages more effectively than they used to. Hashtags also allow pages to categorize the content they are uploading, making it easier for users to access desired content. To further increase the likelihood of amplifying their impact, social media users and companies establish partnerships with other users. For example, pop singer Camila Cabello started a collaborative initiative with the Movement Voter Project to promote the voices of various social movements and to fund activists’ mental health resources.


Hampering advocacy

While mass media co-opting has helped people advocate for their social and political beliefs, many have also recognized the negative impacts it can have on advocacy. During the BLM protests in June of 2020, millions of social media users chose to show their solidarity by posting a black square captioned with #blacklivesmatter. Although this seems like a harmless gesture, the influx of black squares overflooded the hashtag and blocked many crucial resources from being seen, such as video footage of police brutality and information on how to actively support the movement and related organizations.


“Social media has become a great way to raise awareness for social issues, but it is incredibly important to put action to words—not only spreading awareness but also applying what you are posting in your everyday life,” Senior Jianna Wong said.

 

About the Contributors

Dhruv Anish

Staff Writer


Dhruv Anish is a junior at Leland High School who is a staff writer for the newspaper. He likes to watch movies and listen to music in his spare time. His favorite actor is Robert Deniro and his favorite movie is The Godfather: Part 2.







Natalie Gao

Staff Writer


Natalie Gao is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer. She likes playing Tetris and making mac and cheese in her free time.

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