Can a # Change the World?

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Ever since I was a little girl, fundraising and raising awareness for causes has been at the center of my being.

What started as my 7-year-old self walking around my neighborhood in my free time with a jar collecting money for the local Humane Society, eventually led to numerous positions as a non-profit resource coordinator. Now here I am today, working at one of the top and fastest-growing crowdfunding companies in the world, helping others raise money online every day.

Because I have worked in the fundraising world for so long, I am always well aware of new campaigns and fundraising trends. With the rapidly growing popularity and success of the ALS Association's "Ice Bucket Challenge," it got me thinking about other social media awareness campaigns that have gone viral and what sets them apart from each other.

In the last year we have seen Twitter and Facebook explode with hashtags such as #BringBackOurGirls, #YesAllWomen, and now #IceBucketChallenge. But when does a viral campaign actually bring about real change and not just a trend for people to half-ass-edly hop on board with? Let's take a look...


When over 200 Nigerian school girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram's rebel army back in April, 2014, the world knew little about it. That was until a social activism campaign started a trend on Twitter with hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. International headlines and an even higher rise in social trending followed, but unfortunately, not much else. Even while celebrities and world leaders were showing their support for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, very little has been done to actually, well...bring them back.

According to the Washington Post, Twitter activity around the campaign has dropped sharply–from 488,000 tweets sent globally in early May to just under 7,000 tweets sent around the world in late July. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that US plane surveillance suggests that at least some of the 219 schoolgirls still held captive are being used as bargaining chips for the release of prisoners. This is in addition to some of them being forced onto sex slavery and early marriage.

#BringBackOurGirls brought to light the real and crippling issue of oppression and violence toward women that is still going on in our world. It also brought this dark bit of reality into mainstream media, where is seldom visits. The only problem was, it didn't really challenge supporters to do anything more than hit the "retweet" button. Approximately 200 girls are still being held captive, nearly four months later, and hundreds of thousands of women still face gender violence and oppression around the world everyday. Can a hashtag really do anything to change that?


Moving to an issue closer to home, in May, 2014, Elliot Rodger performed a mass shooting and eventual suicide on the campus of University of California Santa Barbara. Rodger killed six other people before killing himself and left behind a trail of haunting evidence revealing his plot to act that day. The chilling and heavily disturbing nature of his hatred-led violence was that it stemmed from a deranged view of women. Rodger left behind numerous YouTube videos expressing his disappointment in not gaining the attention from women, stating "I'll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one. The true Alpha Male."

Rodger's anti-women comments quickly sparked a social media trend based around the hashtag #YesAllWomen. Here, women around the world shared examples of how all women experience harassment, discrimination, or worse, throughout their lifetime, even if not all men are the ones causing this inequality to happen.

According to CNN and their interview with feminist writer and political analyst Zerlina Maxwell, while most feminist-driven Twitter campaigns preach to the choir, #YesAllWomen succeeded in drawing the mainstream, including men, into the conversation.

But while the campaign may have reached a wider audience than other feminist or gender equality campaigns before, the real question is, what did it actually do?


Flash forward a few months to July 2014, Chris Kennedy, a 26-year-old professional golfer on the minor-league West Florida Tour, was challenged to do the "Ice Bucket Challenge." At the time, you could choose whatever charity you would like to donate to in order to avoid dumping a chilling bucket of ice cold water on your head. Kennedy was the first to choose the ALS Association because of his cousin who suffered from the disease. The three people he challenged then also chose the ALS Association as their cause...and the rest is history.

The Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show takes on the challenge last week.

Since Kennedy's video, between July 29th and August 19th, the association received $22.9 million in donations, according to a press release. Over the same period last year, it raised $1.9 million. That’s an increase of more than 1100%, according to the New York Daily News.

I know I am not the only one to who has experienced a dramatic increase of #IceBucketChallenge videos clogging up my Facebook newsfeed, so I don't think I need to further address the success of this campaign. And not only are our friends completing the challenge, but numerous celebrities and world leaders. But the reason I beg to ask is "why?"

With all of the needs and tragedies knocking on our door on a daily basis, why do I think the #IceBucketChallenge has risen above and knighted itself as the current king of social media campaigns?

Because it requires action.

The secret to this campaign success is that it has put together the perfect model of requiring someone to act and then nominate other people by name to do the same thing. The #IceBucketChallege works because it eliminates the opportunity to be an "armchair activist," tweeting about change but doing nothing about it.

Moving past all of the controversy about wasting water and people participating in the challenge without donating, looking at from the standpoint of the opportunity to do good by harnessing the power of social media is highly impressive. What I find most impressive about this whole campaign is it's feeble beginnings. It is a reminder that while we may care deeply about the mistreatment of women or the justice of young and innocent children across the world, we have to do more than tweet about it.

So, can a hashtag change the world? Yes, when used properly. Let us really think next time we hop on board the next trending cause and ask ourselves, "If I really care about this, what am I going to do about it?"

If we can cure a disease with a bucket of ice, our potential to change the world is endless.

Please consider making a donation to the ALS Association and if you participate in the challenge, please conserve water by using a reusable supply.

1 comment

  1. Go you!!!! You are a genius!! Not only did you break down the why and how a hashtag can be revolutionary, but you also took the ice bucket challenge AND promoted water conservation. You are superwoman!