How Progressive Movements Mistakenly Amplify Anti-Progressive Hashtags

From #BlackLivesMatter to #MeToo—since its surge in popularity in the late 2000's—Twitter has been the origin of some of the most progressive movements of our generation. Through the use of hashtags, the social media platform has allowed the rapid growth and amplification of the pleas and ideals of progressive movements.

Invented by Chris Messina in 2007, hashtags allow users to not only be able to quickly find information related to their movement amongst the vast amount of tweets on Twitter but also allow users to amplify their messages and hence garner more support for their affiliated movement. Despite the perceived ease of both their logic and use, hashtags have been and are still used wrongly by most progressive movements.

With every progressive movement, there is always another movement advocating for the exact opposite and it is common to find both sides of the fence locking horns on Twitter. When the #BlackLivesMatter movement was starting off, another movement called #AllLivesMatter was also born. When #MeToo became mainstream exposing inappropriate sexual behavior by some high profile men, an opposing hashtag— #HimToo—also garnered popularity.

In their efforts to quell these anti-progressive movements, progressive movements make the mistake of using that movement's problematic hashtag which further amplifies that anti-progressive hashtag instead of squelching it—the original intention. Unlike humans, algorithms used by social media sites like Twitter do not "think" contextually. Simply put, to Twitter algorithms, the following two tweets mean exactly the same thing:

1.Why should black people get any special treatment from law enforcement officials? #AllLivesMatter

2.People who support this #AllLivesMatter movement do not understand the intricacies of the racial profiling that people of color suffer at the hands of law enforcement officials.
Looking at the context by which the #AllLivesMatter hashtag is used in each of the tweets above— to a human— it is obvious that the first use is by an anti-progressive movement and the second one is used in a progressive context.

Unfortunately, the Twitter algorithms will amplify both tweets because to them, they mean the same thing. This leads to progressives mistakenly contributing to the growth in popularity of problematic hashtags because they also use them in their own tweets.

To counter this phenomenon, progressive movements should either shy away from including these problematic hashtags in their tweets or opt to use alternative characters instead of the hashtag to talk about that problematic hashtag. For example, instead of posting the following tweet:

This #HimToo movement undermines the legitimacy of the haunting experiences that women around the world have went through

Rather use an alternative character instead of the hashtag, like below:

This !HimToo movement undermines the legitimacy of the haunting experiences that women around the world have went through
As much as hashtags can be useful in pushing and amplifying progressive ideals on social media— if used incorrectly—they can act counterintuitively and instead amplify anti-progressive ideas. Before sending out tweets trying to quelch anti-progressive hashtags, it is hence important to understand and appreciate that algorithms do not think like humans and therefore care must be taken when sending out those tweets.



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