Mapping The Affordances And Dynamics Of Activist Hashtags
Keywords:Twitter, hashtags, activism, affordances, theory
This paper builds upon previous research about the communicative and organizational affordances of platforms in order to identify and analyze the particular affordances of the hashtag within the context of activism and networked publics. I limit my analysis to the use of activist hashtags on Twitter because it is one of the most popular spaces for hashtag activism at the intersection of identity politics. Second, the use of activist-driven collective storytelling via Twitter hashtags is a strategy for drawing attention to otherwise overlooked demographics and marginalized experiences. Drawing from theories of (digital) communication, I explain how the hashtag functions as a unique digitally networked artifact with at least three distinct affordances: curational, polysemic, and memetic. These affordances encapsulate two dynamics with which activists must contend: duality within communities of practice and a multiplicity of articulated subjectivities. Mapping out the potentials of each of these affordances and dynamics is an essential step for activist movements seeking to harness the positive potential of hashtags for social change. Far too often well-intended activist hashtags get co-opted in ways that are antithetical to the intent of the movement; understanding the affordances and dynamics of the hashtag itself can help activists create and utilize them in advantageous ways. I conclude with a brief analysis of the feminist hashtag #WhyIStayed – a collective storytelling activist hashtag intended to draw attention to the complexities of intimate partner violence - to elucidate the affordances and dynamics of the hashtag within a networked public.