By Olivia Tseu-Tjoa
Activism on social media has often been criticised as ‘hashtag activism’ or a form of ‘slacktivism’, defined as the support of social causes through the internet but are considered to involve little effort or time and have no real tangible effect. While browsing through well known hashtags such as #RefugeesWelcome, #LetThemStay, #BringThemHere and #CloseTheCamps, I found these tags to be specific to the asylum seeker issue in Australia. Looking at both tweets and images, the stakeholders involved with the issue became apparent. Are we all just “slackers” who loudly proclaim #LetThemStay on our social media platforms or is more being achieved?
Focused on organisations, protestors, politicians and tweets that used the hashtag #BringThemHere. Using tools such as Twitter Archiver and the advanced search function on Twitter. Refining search terms, going from the broad to the specific. The most recent image search of #BringThemHere on Twitter was dominated by photos of protests and rallies held across Australia. Revealed the types of stakeholders that participated in street-level protests. While the Twitter Archiver offered a practical way of collating the recent tweets, I personally preferred to use the Twitter search function. I felt that the format of the Google spreadsheet was not an easy, viable way of viewing the data.
Community group Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children
Love Makes A Way – A Christian, multi-faith activist group
Border Observatory, Associate Professor Claudia Tazreiter – ‘Academics for Refugees’
In terms of politicians, primarily Greens Senators would Tweet using the hashtag. Senator Lee Rhiannon and newly appointed Immigration spokesman Tasmanian Senator Nick McKim.
“It’s clear your policy has failed”
In my findings, I also learnt that the hashtag intersected with the recent news of Wilson Security ending their contract with offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island. I came across a set of completely identical tweets:
All posted within a similar time frame (on the 2nd September at the time of this post), I tried to source the origin of this tweet but was unable to find it. I had thought it was linked to an online petition or perhaps their accounts had been ‘possessed’ by an activist Twitter Bot? Or were people just copying a message tagged with the PM’s Twitter handle and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton? This barrage of tweets would definitely draw their attention and possibly a motivator for change. If they are tweets by actual accounts (not Twitter bots) it could represent the public outcry against Australia’s current policies and pressuring politicians via Twitter. This mysterious set of identical tweets could warrant further investigation.
Attacking the ‘LWNJs’
Conversely, there were Twitter users who used the hashtag to attack ‘the Left’, even calling them ‘LWNJs’, an acronym for ‘Left-Wing Nut Jobs’ (I had to look that up).
When I looked into their profiles and previous tweets, it became obvious that they held ‘anti-Islam’, ‘anti-refugee’ views, a contempt for ‘the left’ and were proudly claiming so in their bios. In these tweets, the users have retweeted news stories such as ‘Refugee sets wife ablaze’ and warn of ‘Multiculturalism coming soon to your suburb’. Even though they used the hashtags such as #CloseTheCamps, #BringThemHere and #RefugeesWelcome, they clearly did not have the same sentiment. By using a popular hashtag, these users draw more attention to their tweets- almost as if they were hijacking the hashtag. However, these kinds of tweets were infrequent and disproportionate to the tweets which had a pro-refugee sentiment. In my sample, I only came across the above three.
Five points in summary
- Tracking specific hashtags like #BringThemHere resulted in tweets and photos associated with recent protests and rallies held across Australia. Many raised awareness of rallies, spreading word of their time and place. This phrase or hashtag is highly specific to the issue of asylum seekers in an Australian context.
- The majority of tweets containing #BringThemHere were protesting, critical of Australia’s policies. Tagging Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton’s accounts.
- The data scrape revealed that only a minor, infrequent number of tweets used the hashtag with anti-refugee views. These users shared similar previous tweets, demonstrating anti-Islam attitudes and a hatred of ‘the left.’
- Recent events, such as Wilson Security’s termination of their contract were linked to the hashtag. The identical tweets I found could have been an automated message protesting against Australia’s policy tweeted by a Twitter bot but it still remains a mystery to me.
- I think that the idea of ‘hashtag activism’ and whether it can actually affect change especially with Australia’s treatment of refugees could be deconstructed and analysed endlessly (and it certainly has). I think it’s a topic that is too complex to really sum up in a single point. However, for the purposes of this task, I found that the hashtag spreads public awareness of the issue, allowing journalists, politicians and protesters alike to voice their critique of the government’s current policies. In addition, they can spread information such as the time and location of rallies, gaining traction to put pressure on our politicians.
ExSydney. 2016, Twitter Post, ‘And STILL…@JulianBurnside and chums cry #BringThemHere,’ 2 September, viewed 4 September 2016 <https://twitter.com/ExSydney/status/771664931779293185 >.
Blog post header image
Photo by Seewald K. 2016, @katesewald, Twitter, 27 August, viewed 4 September 2016 <https://twitter.com/kateseewald/status/769386667991900160 >.