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FIRE Debates Are Back! ‘Hashtag Activism’ to Take Center Stage at the University of Pennsylvania

By March 7, 2016

FIRE is excited to announce that the third installment of the FIRE Debates series will take place at the University of Pennsylvania on Wednesday, March 23, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern in the Harrison Auditorium at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Debaters will argue the effectiveness of “hashtag activism.”

Social media hashtags have received both praise and criticism since they were first used in 2007 for advocacy and activism campaigns. Among the most well-known examples of hashtags used to garner support for political or social causes are #BlackLivesMatter, for recent protests regarding racial inequality, and #BringBackOurGirls, which was used after the 2014 kidnappings of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram. While exploring the complexity of this issue, the two debaters will argue opposing sides of the motion “Hashtag activism garners attention but is not enough for outcomes.”  

Arguing for the motion is Zeynep Tufekci. Tufekci is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. As a former programmer who now studies how technology and society interact, Tufekci researches the social impacts of technology. She’s also a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and a former fellow at the Center for Internet Technology Policy at Princeton University. Her topics of interest include politics, civics, movements, and privacy and surveillance, as well as data and algorithms. Tufekci has been following many social movements around the world, including in her home country of Turkey. Her forthcoming book from Yale University Press is tentatively titled Beautiful Tear Gas: The Ecstatic, Fragile Politics of Networked Protest in the 21st Century.

Arguing against the motion is educator and community organizer Zellie Imani. Imani has served in diverse K–8 settings as an English and math teacher and as a curriculum developer. Most recently, Imani has been organizing against anti-black state violence with the St. Louis-based Millennial Activists United and #NJShutItDown, a network of college and high school students in New Jersey that “aims to destroy the systematic institution of oppression.” He is also a co-founder of the Black Liberation Collective, an organization of black students dedicated to transforming institutions of higher education through unity, coalition building, direct action, and political education. The group has initiated the #StudentBlackOut movement across campuses in the United States and Canada.

Interested in attending the debate? The event is open to the public, and tickets are free—get one here! The debate will also be live-streamed on FIRE’s YouTube page if you can’t make it in person.

For more information about this debate and the FIRE Debates series, contact Theresa Glinski at theresa@thefire.org.