I firmly believe that if there had been Twitter when Mother Teresa was a girl, she wouldn’t have done any of the humanitarian work that made her a household name. Instead, she would have simply hashed out an ineffectual epithet about how she COULDN’T BELIEVE that there were still starving people in that day and age before going back to doing whatever it is teenage Albanian girls did in the early 20th century. Just think of how many lepers would have gone on unwashed if Mother Theresa had social media at her disposal.
I also believe that “hashtag activism” is a fundamentally dishonest term, as it implies that there is something even remotely taxing about broadcasting self-righteous social-justice rhetoric from your smartphone while you wait in the line at Starbucks. Real activists are often equally annoying as their digital counterparts, but at least they go to the trouble of buying markers and poster board and getting out there to proselytize in person. Whereas active-activists see social problems as a window of opportunity, hashtag activists see a mirror in which to reflect on their own importance. Their words have all the weight of electronic data itself.
Wait, don’t tell me—I’ve got it all wrong, because microblogging about social issues raises awareness, right? Sure, but what good does a raised awareness of anything do without the real-world steps taken to actually effect change? Simply making people aware of something does not cause them to act on it. If that were the case, Kitty Genovese would have been saved as soon as she called for help instead of being murdered as a dozen people saw and heard while doing nothing.
You can utilize social media to raise awareness about an issue until the average person can’t even take a power nap without dreaming about it, and you can foster discussion until everybody involved is blue in the thumbs. It’s not going to improve anything and will have an adverse effect if the evidence is to be believed.
Science has thoroughly demonstrated that announcing your plans to the world makes you less likely to actually achieve them. This is called “symbolic self-completion,” a term coined by NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer. In four different tests of 63 people, he discovered that the subjects who kept their intentions private had a greater chance of actually seeing them through than the conceited dopes that ran around blabbing about them. The reason is simple: When you talk about doing something, you get part of the hit that comes from putting the work in and seeing it done. For many people, particularly on the Internet, this is more than enough.
“But wait!” I hear you yelling at your screen because you’re unstable. “Most hashtag activists aren’t actually making plans. They’re just talking about the issues!” Exactly—they’re not even as annoying as the guy who won’t stop talking about how he’s going to join the gym any day now—they’re worse. They’re basically a guy sitting alone in his room saying, “Gyms are important.” In other words, they’re retarded.
Given that we know how impotent microblogging is as a platform for changing the world, it should come as a surprise to no one that the sudden erection (grow up) of inch-long metal studs outside of an apartment block in London—which are being dubbed “anti-homeless spikes”—have sparked a wildfire of disposable outrage on the Twittersphere. Aside from the fact that none of them have picked up on the irony that homelessness in London has actually spiked over the last three years, most of the participants seem perfectly content to say little more than “Society isn’t nice to homeless people” while failing to take the steps necessary to actually lend said people a hand. Here are some choice cuts from the thread:
I would have a much easier time taking any of these people seriously—particularly “Ethical Pioneer,” whose name suggests that there is something profoundly cutting-edge and fresh about the notion that homelessness is a bad thing—if I had even the slightest reason to believe that any of them would be willing to open their doors to a homeless person or to give the homeless anything but their figurative two cents on society’s attitudes toward their plight. I’m sure that a couple of people digitally soap-boxing on this issue—particularly those with accounts belonging to registered charities—are actually intending to put their money where their mouth is, but they are outnumbered by the conceited majority.
There were 170 new tweets containing the phrase “anti-homeless spikes” within ten minutes of my researching this article. If the people behind them donated one British pound apiece, then that would be 170 pounds that the homeless didn’t have before. If even one of them offered a homeless person a place to spend the night instead of just jacking off to their own hollow sympathies, then that would be one less person on the streets for an evening.
They’re not going to do that, and neither am I, because I’m anxious and selfish and I don’t care enough to take that risk. I write to nurture my own ego, and the rest is an afterthought. I’m willing to admit this, but hashtag activists insist on presenting themselves as forces for good while contributing nothing—and this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’m better than them.