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Over the past two weeks, if you’ve wondered how hundreds – if not thousands – of protesters could appear at airports across the nation within a matter of just hours, the answer is simple: social media. Protest groups spontaneously appeared on Facebook, activists shared details via Twitter and just about everyone was checking two hashtags – #NoBanNoWall and #MuslimBan – to see what was happening around them.
What was unique about these airport protests – as compared to the March on Washington that occurred the day after the Trump inauguration – is that they were not planned months in advance. Instead, people shared events via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As the media showed images of swelling crowds at airports like JFK in New York City, that only fed the momentum around these protests against the controversial executive order banning certain immigrants from entering the nation.
And social media has helped to fuel another backlash against Trump – and that’s by massing public opinion against any business or organization that appears to be profiting from President Trump. Perhaps the best example is the #DeleteUber hashtag that went completely viral in a matter of 24 hours. At a time when immigrant taxi drivers were protesting and striking, Uber drivers were filling in and taking their money. As a result, the word went out amongst activists, who asked people to #DeleteUber from their smartphones to punish Uber for “profiting” from the immigration ban.
And, that’s not all – there’s also the #GrabYourWallet movement, which is an attempt to punish all of Donald Trump’s business interests. The movement actually started during the presidential campaign, when it became obvious that the Trump empire included a sprawling mix of properties and brands. The most obvious take-down – or, at least, the one the media is focusing on the most – is the #GrabYourWallet campaign to stop department stores from carrying any products from Ivanka Trump. Two stores that recently capitulated include Nordstrom’s and Neiman-Marcus.
The pop-up protest phenomenon
If you’re an anti-Trump activist, of course, social media and “the crowd” are winning. WIRED magazine even wrote about the new phenomenon of the “pop-up protest,” where hundreds of protesters can be deployed at nearly any location in the country, for any cause. On the weekend of February 4-5, when the Trump team had moved to the “winter White House” in Mar-a-Lago – images of protesters once again popped up on the major cable TV networks. And this time it was a clash of two protest groups – the anti-Trump activists and the pro-Trump supporters defending President Trump’s “home turf.”
The crowd vs. the mob
However, there is one important consideration to keep in mind. The opposite of “the crowd” is “the mob.” And we’ve already seen evidence of what can happen, with the social media-fueled riots at California-Berkeley to protest a pro-Trump speaker.
For now, there has been a tacit agreement between law enforcement and the protesters that there is a certain line that neither side will cross. As long as that line is observed, it’s clear that social media and hashtag activism can be a powerful tool for organizing, mobilizing and marching.