It never ceases to amaze me how quickly grown adults can act like children when given a new toy. But there is one huge difference between kids and adults. With kids the new “thing” comes in quickly, they figure out the best parts, apply them to their learning, and then phase them out and move on to the next thing. With adults, we take exponentially longer to figure out how to use them, and when we do, we find the one thing that creates the most polarization and obsess on that attribute until we’ve pissed everyone off, and then look for the nitrous button to up the intensity even further. And there is no toy generating more buzz these days than the hashtag. When it started it was a way to track a conversation, but it has quickly morphed into a brand on a given position. Given the complexity of positions, it grossly oversimplifies abstract or layered thoughts to some word combination under 20 characters.
The latest trend is #BlackLivesMatter, which could not possibly be more condescending to what would otherwise be an obvious statement. Of course black lives matter, as do police, and so forth. We shouldn’t have hashtags where there isn’t even a logical option for the antonym view. It’s not like #BlackLivesDontMatter is trending. Because “Lives” fucking matter. Now we have #IStandWithKim in support of the Kentucky clerk who has been jailed for not issuing marriage licenses in the wake of same sex marriage being ruled legal. What part of her position does that hashtag stand for exactly? It could mean; freedom of religion, opposition to same sex marriage, that you only believe in Christianity, or an infinite amount of other things. Whatever it means, the definition is an amalgamation of whatever conversation is trending, or however the media decides to spin the narrative. Either way, it will eventually mean something very succinct, and not necessarily what you wanted it mean.
Take the Tea Party for example. It was a grassroots movement around conservative spending, and keeping the federal government’s role limited. In no time at all, it became a conduit for a bigger military (not conservative spending), and policies that would have created more US intervention in the world, more federal legislation a la abortion, and overtly supported broader wire tapping for all US citizens (unlimited federal role in government). Though the Tea Party overtake didn’t happen exclusively because of social media, the concept is the same. When you reduce the complexity of a broad view to one or two words, or even one like Republican or Democrat, you reduce the argument to “Pro” or “Con”. When, in fact, the argument should be about the nuances, and options to reach an outcome.
Apply this principle to foreign affairs or domestic politics with a business lens. Let’s say a hashtag campaign begins… #NoLayoffs. It sounds like a great idea, and one that should resonate with any employee. However, what if the choice was no layoffs and go out of business in less than a year, or 5% of the workforce is let go and the business transforms into something more profitable and enables future jobs? The common sense argument loses out to the one that catches fire. And #NoLayoffs is going to resonate with employees and their families.
The fact is, the onus of a message has to land on us as the audience, reader, or viewer. Without doing so, we become the primates we descended from. We put the power of our decisions and actions with a few, or worse… the random groupthink that comes from a large consortium. I am not anti-hashtag. But I do believe that we all, collectively, have to do more and influence others to be more diligent with news, information, and formulate positions that are informed. Otherwise we are simply reduced to talking point. At best, an ambiguous statement that could mean anything, at worst, a polarizing one that could mean friend or enemy to the colloquial aunt or uncle. The responsibility is yours. Unless you want to fall prey to my new campaign #ElectKanye which is not about Kanye becoming president, and more about voting him off the island.