Hashtags, Fur, Multi-colored women, and Firewalls

It was difficult enough for me to even make this list of topics, let alone choose one to focus on as a potential research topic. Narrowing down an ever-expanding list of activist topics I find interesting was like asking which of my twenty children I loved the most, and being forced to axe the rest.

1. #Hashtivism: Social Media Activism or “Hashtivism” (Hashtag Activism)
“Slacktivism,” “Hashtivism,” or whatever condemning nickname it currently boasts has come under heavy criticism as a symbol of younger generation “apathy.” Instead of traditional forms of activism or protest, millenials and Gen X-ers are taking to the web to express their dismay or outrage over political and social activist issues. From #Kony2012 to #ALSicebucketchallenge, the endless list of petitions on Change.org, and FB status updates, how effective are these massive online campaigns? Is this Generation X/Y/Z’s revolutionary version of rioting and open air protests, the distant off-spring of college student protests in the 1960s? Or is online activism merely a self-serving badge used to bolster personal profiles? Is this form of activism sustainable, or is it dangerously contributing to the proliferation of so-called “echo chambers” that censor dissenting views and encourages the creation and sharing of fake news.

2. Animals over Humans (Animal Rights Extremists)
Although a small minority, these extremists appear often in the media for their often violent shock tactics and can discredit or embarrass existing animal rights groups. Using death threats, physical violence, property destruction (arson), and other forms of illegal coercion, these extremists often target science institutions and researchers using animals for cancer studies or drug tests as well as food producers and law enforcement. The most prominent extremist animal rights group in recent history has been the Animal Liberation Front, who are estimated to have caused over 1,100 criminal acts in the U.S. since 1976 with damages amounting to $110 million by the FBI.

3. Intersectionality in Feminism
The history of feminism in the United States often overlooks the participation of racial and sexual minority groups in the struggle towards equality. Even today, where many feminist college groups and activist groups are dominated by white, heterosexual women, and black, Asian, or LGBTQ+ women are left to form their own separate groups. Is it more important to assimilate feminist groups into a cohesive coalition or to acknowledge distinct cultural differences and backgrounds with specialized communities? What happens when identity politics are ignored in the push for gender equality? Can true equality be achieved when there is an existing imbalance in feminist discourse

4. Not Your Music, Not Your Headdress
With growing awareness over the potential offensiveness of culturally-themed Halloween costumes (2016 Yale student protests), white-washing in Hollywood (Gods of Egypt, Doctor Strange, Ghost in the Shell, etc.) and the co-opting of black music by white artists for profit (Iggy Azalea vs. Nicki Minaj). However, some are arguing that people are taking the concept of appropriation too far; for example, the criticism by the LGBT community of a Christian church’s Christmas display that involved rainbows. Where is the line drawn between appropriation and appreciation? Furthermore, there is the growing question of whether or not the “culture of the majority” can be appropriated. Is there such thing as “white” or “straight” culture, and is it vulnerable to the same level of appropriation as minority cultures?
5. The Great Firewall of China (Likely Topic) 
When we think of censorship in history, we are often reminded of widespread book-burnings during the Nazi regime, or the repressive dictatorships of Soviet Russia. However, it’s important to realize that the world’s most extensive and restricting government censorship is occurring in today’s world: Communist China. It is often the source of many jokes to those traveling briefly to China (“Not going to be on FB for a few weeks, going to the Great Firewall of China!”), but the everyday reality of government-monitored Internet access is bleak. Those accused of signing online petitions, researching politically sensitive material (Tian An Men Square massacre, Tibetan independence) , contacting unapproved social groups through email, or simply posting anti-government views on their personal social media sites may be imprisoned — in fact, China has “the largest record of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world.” Despite predictions that a censorship program of this scale could not last, China’s Internet censorship has thrived. It now involves over 2 million government agents and although VPNs may be used to “jump the Firewall,” less than 2% of China’s 1.4 billion people attempt to. The Chinese government dictates all political discourse, shutting down any discussion (no matter how private) of government corruption and disagreements with party policies. Using carefully cultivated social media sites (Weibo instead of Twitter, WeChat instead of Facebook, Baidu instead of Google), China doesn’t mind that these American companies refuse to operate in their country on the basis of privacy violations — they merely create their own platforms. How can the most populous country in the world sustain this level of censorship? How are activists fighting back, and where can they go (besides jail)? What are the implications of this “information prison” on the minds of the Chinese people? What can the rest of the world do?

Let me know what you think of these topics, and I welcome any suggestions! 

(edit: Added title)

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One thought on “Hashtags, Fur, Multi-colored women, and Firewalls”

  1. Great topics! I’m really interested in the idea of researching activism against the Great Firewall of China. It’s my (casual) understanding that the Chinese Government is under constant attack from not only traditional hackers, but hacktivists. If you haven’t already, I’d look into the April 2015 arrests of pro-democracy hacktivists in China and Anonymous’ response.

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