The Echo Chamber of Hashtag Activism

I Stand With Willa, I Stand For Survivors,” was published by The Hoya two weeks ago, and with it came the expected social media frenzy. Facebook was ablaze with enraged Internet gladiators who both defended and attacked Georgetown. Together, we now await the answer to the same burning question — what happens next?

The opinion piece was the latest article to shed light on an unprecedented revolution that is currently underway, a revolution that is seeking to address injustice in many different aspects of our lives.

What I find so disappointing is that, while there are incredible and courageous people like Willa Murphy at the heart of social revolutions, their messages have been drowned out by the incessancy of unarticulated outrage. “Hashtag activism” is nothing but an echo chamber of popularity-crazed Internet spectators that profit on the suffering of others. Woefully, this format of response has become the default reaction to any public incident.

The very nature of an op-ed has provided both the piece itself and its ensuing movement with a layer of immunity from public scrutiny, because any input in response is viewed as attacking the character of the subject, which in this case is Willa.

It is important to discern between those who are critiquing the legitimacy and effectiveness of this type of ill-thought-out campaign and those who assault the merit of Willa’s testimony. Those who make personal attacks against Willa should not be tolerated, as their close-mindedness only discourages other victims from coming forward.

Unfortunately, the magnitude of this issue and the implications of such accusations for many people in Georgetown’s student body may have not been fully considered before the campaign was set in motion. Without some sort of official story with which people can educate themselves and refer to, rumors are encouraged to run rampant and those who promote them the loudest are hailed as valiant crusaders against an enemy whose own story has yet to be investigated.

When op-eds are written in a manner that cannot be described other than an all-out assault on a university’s administration — a public shaming with no constructive end in sight — we are not left with progressive change. What we find ourselves left with are short-sighted advocates that blindly condemn the university.

What started out as a noble quest for change has increasingly turned into a witch-hunt in which the troops of righteousness rally under ridiculously broad hashtags. This is nothing but a spectacle of instantaneous condemnation, put on display for the masses, that detracts from the real issues at hand. A real conversation on how progress can be made for the survivors of these horrific incidents is seemingly nowhere to be found, and worryingly, no one seems to care.

By the time the dust settles and people have stopped venting their self-righteous responses against the university, Willa, her cause and all other survivors will be worse off because of the way this case is being handled by the Georgetown student body.

Pure subjectivity on the part of the commentators riles up the masses; it does not create progress. The campaign instigates unnecessary drama that pits Internet users against one another. The anti-administration advocates have adopted a “my way or the high way” mentality. Anyone who questions the article is branded as illiberal and backward and pushed aside as the Facebook crusaders rant to one another, creating a cacophony of false progressiveness.

I do recognize that taking a few minutes to vent your rage online is easy, and, at the moment, it is extremely popular. You receive a few likes, people comment encouraging things and you feel good about yourself. What happens in a few days when the high has worn off? Where are the survivors? How has Willa benefited from your hashtag-laden temper tantrum? Are you giving rise to the voiceless or promoting your own popularity?

There are those who argue that any response is better than a lack thereof. Why is it that we should apathetically accept the path of our predecessors? Why not set the bar for how a community comes to the aid of one of its own? We are blessed to be members of a world-class student body that tirelessly seeks to improve itself and the Georgetown community in a way unlike any other. With this case being brought to the forefront in the past several days, we must not squander this opportunity to make concrete progress.

There are opportunities of which both the student body and administration can easily take advantage that do not require mountains to be moved. For instance, this past semester a representative from Health Education Services gave a presentation on sexual assault services in my “Introduction to Ethics” course. Having a friendly face associated with these services was extremely informative. Perhaps this kind of presentation could be mandated by the administration for all classes in the future.

The chance to change waits at our doorstep. It is my hope that we capitalize on our capabilities as students of this incredible school to finally bring justice to the voiceless.

What if, instead of taking five minutes to rant, we took an hour to constructively criticize one of the university’s policies? What if instead of tweeting a hashtag, we created a petition that demanded actual reform? What if, instead of moving on, we established an annual conference, in which both experts on the issue and survivors had a place to come together and educate the uninformed on the topic of sexual assault? What if, instead of an angry Internet mob, we stood as a united front that demanded change on Georgetown’s part?

What if justice for all was actually found?

We must not let these quests for social justice become engulfed in a social media frenzy that will only last for a few short moments. Willa’s story must burn bright for the future, igniting the stories of other survivors so that we might one day live up to our proud value of being men and women for others.

Justin Kotwicki is a rising junior in the College. He is a staff writer for The Hoya; his views are his own.

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  1. as you write this for social media

  2. A "hashtag" activist says:

    This op-ed is disappointing. If the author had done research on the people who are leading and contributing to this social media movement, he would have learned that many, if not all of us are members of either Georgetown Sexual Assault Peer Educators (SAPE), the GUSA Sexual Assault working group or the GUSA Mental Health Committee that all involve students, faculty and staff. In those organizations/committees, we have the opportunity to push administrators to see our points of view, and we have the privilege of advocating for all hoyas when we suggest policy changes, create open forums, and conduct research on the student body. The hashtag activism that the author writes about is actually incredibly helpful in our meetings with administrators. It shows them that this issue is important and must be given proper attention. Maybe the author should ACTUALLY look into how policy change works at Georgetown before widely condemning those who are intimately involved in creating true reform at GU. #IStandWithWilla #IStandWithSurvivors

    • Faithful Hashtag Activist says:

      I totally agree with you. It’s so annoying when people like this write these articles without actually looking to see if change is actually happening. Just because they don’t hear stuff happening doesn’t mean it’s not. Same with #blacklivesmatter, the movement lives on and there is more stuff happening then what ppl see from the sidelines. Articles like this piss me off

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