The Power of a Hashtag

After many weeks of political turmoil and financial uncertainty, Greece has finally reached a deal with its creditors—a deal that pretty much seals the social, economic and political asphyxiation of my country. But that’s a story for another time. I spent these weeks monitoring the news, refusing to rely on the Greek media as it showed its true colours by constantly twisting events and changing the narrative to fit its own agenda. Thankfully, in the digital era information is everywhere, and deciding to focus on a one-sided version of the story is a choice. Foreign newspapers and social media have been the two sources that got me through these difficult weeks.

Twitter hashtags were especially helpful, and a tool I highly recommend to shift through the dregs of the Internet. By following some specific hashtags, I was able to filter the information I chose to get, but I was also in a position to read the many opinions of different individuals. Most importantly, I was able to see the news break, and then follow the gradual reactions of the public. When the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum, the hashtag #Greferendum started circulating and was kept in use for days even after the referendum was over. #GreeceCrisis is the general hashtag for everything that has to do with the Greek crisis, a hashtag that is often eclipsed by #Grexit. #Grexit has been used repeatedly ever since the Greek crisis begun, reaching a new popularity the past weeks. #Grexit was permanently left aside as last weekend #Schaublexit started trending, after it was reported that Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s Minister of Finance, proposed that Greece should take a five-year “break” from the Eurozone. On Sunday, the hashtag #ThisIsACoup started trending not only in Greece, but in many countries worldwide. After reports of the severity of the new austerity measures the Euro summit proposed to Greece, Twitter users started using #ThisIsACoup in solidarity to Greece, and also in an effort to protest the foreign political intervention in a European country.

Can a hashtag change the world? Of course not, but it can spread information and stop the monopoly of corporate news media. It can help construct an open dialogue between people who come from different countries, and different political and social backgrounds. It can make a small country feel that everything is not yet lost. Most importantly, it can help stop ignorance. I often wonder how different history would have been if the Internet had been created a century earlier. Would the propaganda that led to two World Wars been stronger or weaker? Would my country still be as corrupt and shady as it is now? Would people be more resilient to politics of hate? Can the Internet rewrite history and give more power to the people?

I am in no way dreaming of utopias. I am not naïve enough to believe that politics can be influenced by a trending hashtag on Twitter. People, however, can be influenced. Public perception can be changed. A hashtag leads to further research, and maybe next time something so awful happens, nobody will be surprised. For instance, the #ThisIsACoup hashtag opens up the choice of hearing different voices. There are those who express their disgust with how the EU treats its weakest members, there are those who ridicule it, and those who understand that politics is a game of power and profit. At the same time, a platform that can be used for information can also be used for propaganda, so caution is always needed. Next time you tweet think of the hashtag you use. Nowadays, politics doesn’t stay behind closed doors. Sometimes, there’s a hashtag to use, a hashtag that can become the only voice some people have.

Even the Doctor likes hashtags! (BBC)



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