Annual First Amendment Forum Informs Students about Hashtag Activism

April 28, 2016

April Reign

April Reign was upset by the lack of diversity while watching the 2015 Oscar nominations, so she posted a hashtag to Twitter before going to bed. The Washington DC resident had woken up to discover her tweet had gone viral. 

 “I was frustrated with the lack of people of color that were represented in the slate of nominees,” Reign said on Thursday April 21 at the 25th Annual Kenneth S. Devol First Amendment Forum. The forum was hosted by the California State University, Northridge Department of Journalism.

 Reign was among speaker David Stamps and moderator Professor Elizabeth Blakey at the forum, which was attended by about fifty journalism students.

 The hashtag #Oscarssowhite was created in 2015 and has been generating a conversation by over one million since it went viral. 

 The event took place in Manzanita Hall 130 and was intended to show the audience how hashtags can initiate social change, and sometimes overnight.

 Reign stated that because of social media, the hashtag made it easy for people to understand the basic tenants of this issue and rally behind it. And because of social media, the information could travel around the world. 

 The Oscars 2015 passed and the conversation died down. However, after the 2016 nominations were announced, the conversation rose up again. 

 This time, the hashtag became more pervasive than it did the year before.

“Hollywood still had not learned. The conversation was just as homogeneous as it was last year,” Reign said. 

 Also according to Reign, due to the conversations stemming from this hashtag, society has begun to see big systemic changes in the academy. Studios are starting to take initiative, such as Warner Bros., who recently started an emerging directors program. 

 “The changes that they have made are a good start, but there’s more that needs to be done,” Reign said. “This was a grassroots campaign, but we still got a lot accomplished.”

 Professor Blakey emphasized that through social media, people are able to make change happen and personalize their news through hashtag channels. 

 “With hashtag channels, you just create a channel where people can comment together and there’s no gatekeeper. You just have a hashtag and everyone's talking inside of it,” Blakey said.

 Stamps, a Mass Communication graduate student, built a social media campaign called the #wematterproject that was derived from the the highlights of #blacklivesmatter campaign.

Stamps wanted to find out what the conversation was, he said, so he launched a short movie to bring people together. He is now looking for funding so he can create more videos that attack the narratives that mainstream media is putting out there, he added. 

“We are supposed to be the land of the free, and that doesn’t mean some of us. But if only some of us are succeeding, that is a problem,” Stamps said. 


- Adrienne Ryser