Hashtag Activism Over Santa Barbara Shooting Completely Misses The Point

Fatimah Mazhar
On May 23, Friday, six people were killed and 13 others in a crazed Isla Vista murder spree near University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).The prime suspect, who is believed to have been among the fatalities, was reportedly a 22-year-old student named Elliot Rodger.

A day into the incident, the disturbing details of the perpetrator’s views about society and its people were made public which revealed the fact that Rodger was a frustrated and mentally ill guy who led a lonely lifestyle.

However, after his 140-page manifesto “promising revenge on all the women who had rejected him” emerged, it became quite clear that his hatred seemed to have been particularly directed at women – especially the ones who didn’t reciprocate his (depraved) feelings.

This bit of information prompted female users on Twitter to share their own thoughts on and experiences of misogyny accompanied by “#YesAllWomen”.

While the tweets in this thread contained some really powerful responses from women – and some men –soon enough, as it often happens with online activism, the topic got hijacked by hashtag wars.

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#YesAllPeople started trending on the social media with men – and again, some women – arguing that it’s not just females who go through abuse. Before long, the focus shifted from the UCSB massacre to how men and women can’t stand up for each other’s rights.

Some examples of such tweets have been given below:





Thankfully, some were reasonable enough to point out that people on both sides of the hashtag had turned a mass shooting into a man versus woman debate.


Indeed, gender inequality is a pressing issue in its own right, but it was, in no way, immediately relevant to what the Isla Vista massacre was actually about.

Thousands of tweets, coming up every hour at the time of writing this post, showed that people were losing sight of what was really important in Elliot Rodger’s case – chronic mental-health and gun control issues.

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Filmmaker Michael Moore, perhaps, had the most significant/substantial response to the killings. He took to his Facebook account on Sunday and wrote a scathing post, arguing that the majority of America’s mass shootings are committed by angry or disturbed people who have easy access to guns and weapons.

We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) ‘interests.’”

Another rational analysis was penned by Chris Ferguson, an associate professor and department chair of psychology at Stetson University, for Time Magazine’s website.

The contributor wrote that while Rodger was – without a doubt – a misogynist, blaming cultural hatred for his actions was moving away from the real problem: mentally ill individuals.

Ferguson highlighted how societies follow an “unfortunate trend” of looking for unique causes that might help to explain the actions of a mass murderer– for instance – violent video games are often cited as the main source of inspiration in the case of younger perpetrators.

“All of this serves to distract us from the commonalities between such shooters. With few exceptions, they are angry, resentful, mentally ill individuals.”

“Certainly, we are right to worry about the stigmatization of the mentally ill, the vast majority of whom are nonviolent. But pretending no link exists at all with these crimes, if anything, prevents us from considering an overhaul to our mental-health system that could service all individuals in need, whether at any risk for violence or not,” he stated.

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Women’s sentiments expressed in #YesAllWomen cannot be written off entirely (of course). However, the fracas that followed in the form of spin-off hashtags shows that online activism or, as it’s commonly referred to as, online hashtivism needs to be cognizant of what exactly it wants to pursue. Further, it shouldn’t cast a shadow on the importance of more urgent issues.