In recent days and through recent highly publicised events such as the Paris shooting, the Sydney siege and even the Grammy Awards, we’ve seen social media platforms absolutely blow up – almost buckle under the pressure – of the many topics people just have to get their two cents in about.
When Phillip Hughes passed away (which we wrote about here), the hashtag #PutOutYourBats littered our newsfeeds, married to hundreds of photos of people laying out their own cricket bats outside their front doors. After the mass shooting of the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, we saw #JeSuisCharlie permeate through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr – according to Adjust Your Set, the hashtag was tweeted 6,5000 times a minute and included within 3.4 million tweets in just 24 hours. Protestors and mourners added the hashtag to banners and t-shirts, while newspapers and publications emblazoned their front pages with it, altogether fostering a worldwide movement in support of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Closer to home, #IllRideWithYou was a product of the unexpected and shocking Lindt Café hostage situation. The hashtag was in every household, a bittersweet reminder of the prejudice that Muslims face around the world whilst simply going about their business. The hashtag showcased a beautifully tolerant and supportive Australia, spreading consciousness about Islamophobia and teaching others to be more open-minded.
And now there’s #ChapelHillShooting. Trending on Twitter worldwide for the last day or so, the hashtag is in direct reference to the catastrophic shooting of three Muslim students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina by a white gunman. Many people are using the hashtag to express their sadness for the victims’ families and to share fun, ordinary-college-student-type Vine videos and Facebook posts uploaded by Barakat, while others are using it to wryly point out the lack of coverage from Western media sources due to the religion of the three students. The conversation is ongoing and in the advent of mainstream press coverage, social media is what is driving this story.
Hashtags were first created to separate, group and filter conversation topics on Twitter, but now it’s so much more. Hashtags allow humans to connect all around the world, breeding debate, conversation, and above all, kindness and spirit, in a forum where everyone can see publicly. We are fast moving away from a society where all we do is consume media that is released by the superpowers, to one where we get to actually create the stories and share our thoughts and experiences.