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May 9, 2014

Is hashtag activism better than doing nothing? Or about the same?

(Continued)

All the attention did accomplish something, though: In the wake of the video's publication, the African Union announced it would send a force of 5,000 to help quell violence in Uganda and bring Kony to justice. They were joined by 100 military advisers from the United States.

"We need to take advantage of the high level of interest, goodwill and political commitment to finally put an end to this crime," U.N. Central Africa envoy Abou Moussa said.

#JusticeforTrayvon

Despite the oft-repeated claim that awareness does nothing, it almost always does something — something small, perhaps, but something measurable.

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was hardly investigated, for instance, when he shot and killed an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, in the Florida suburbs. The case initially attracted no attention outside of Florida. But when the case began to trickle out onto Twitter's trending topics list, issues like contemporary racism, gun control and Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law suddenly became hallmarks of the national conversation.

Between March and April 2012, users sent more than 2.8 million tweets mentioning Trayvon. That virality was credited, in part, for attracting more than 2 million signatures to a Change.org petition calling for the arrest of Martin's shooter — and for getting notables such as President Barack Obama involved.

To the disappointment of activists, the campaign only half-succeeded. While local and state authorities reopened their investigations against Zimmerman in light of the publicity, trying him for second-degree murder in July 2013, Zimmerman was acquitted on all counts.

Hashtag activists weren't finished with the case, though. On July 15, news broke that one of the jurors from the Zimmerman trial had scored some kind of book deal with the agent Sharlene Martin. Thousands of people tweeted at Martin to abandon the book — which she promptly did.

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