The hashtag #earthquake trended in South Africa after residents in Cape Town felt tremors from an earthquake south of the continent. Many experienced a…
On 15 December, Man Haron Monis — a 50-year-old Iranian refugee with a history of violence — walked into the Lindt Cafe in Syndey with a loaded gun. Sixteen hours later, Monis and two of the seventeen people he’d held hostage were dead. In the wake of the crisis, Anti-Islamic sentiment seemed to be running high, thanks at least in part to Monis’ claimed affiliation with the Islamic State terrorist group. The actions of one Brisbane train commuter, and the hashtag those actions sparked changed all that.
According to her own recollections of the incident, Brisbane commuter Rachel Jacobs saw a fiddling to remove her headscarf as people on the train began to read about what was going on in Sydney.
Deducing that she had done so in fear of any reprisals against Muslims, Jacobs offered to walk her home when she got off the train. According to Jacobs’ Facebook posts in the wake of the incident, the two then shared an embrace, before going their separate ways.
— Michael James (@MichaelJames_TV) December 15, 2014
The Facebook posts were then seen by Twitter user Sir Tessa, who suggested the hashtag which has taken the world by storm.
Maybe start a hashtag? What’s in #illridewithyou?
— Sir Tessa (@sirtessa) December 15, 2014
As well as being a metaphorical plea for tolerance, the hashtag had a practical element about it too. It acknowledged that there was a way things should be and asked non-Muslims to stand with Muslims, especially in places where they might be threatened, to help make it so.
Naturally, there has been some backlash to the hashtag, particularly among Australians who agree with their government’s strong anti-immigrant stance. The very fact that it is so simple and that it provided such a direct course of action does however mean that it has a strong case for being the most important hashtag of 2014.
There have, of course, been other very important hashtags this year. #BringBackOurGirls, brought the world’s attention to the atrocities committed by Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram. After a flurry of initial activity however, all that attention has yielded little. The abducted school girls who inspired the hashtag are still missing and Boko Haram continues to run rampant.
The former was started after Darren Wilson, the police officer responsible for shooting dead Michael Brown — an unarmed black teenager, would not be indicted. The latter meanwhile began after Eric Garner, an asthmatic black man, died as a result of police brutality.
It wasn’t just racial inequality that hashtags helped expose this year. #Gamergate, which probably caused the greatest and most sustained amount of social media traffic in 2014, helped expose the inherent misogyny in the gaming and tech space.
Like #IllRideWithYou, the above hashtags also brought out the ugly side in people. In response to #BlackLivesMatter, some Twitter users started the #AllLivesMatter hashtag. A police officer meanwhile responded to #ICantBreathe by releasing a range of “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break the Law” T-shirts .
A core of male gamers involved in the #Gamergate saga meanwhile have threatened women and institutions with rape and bombings respectively.
Despite that kind of blowback however, these hashtags are helping change people’s minds. The agenda they’re pushing forward may not always be popular but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right. They also give voice to people who might otherwise be silent. On that front too, I would argue that #IllRideWithYou is exceptionally powerful.
Yes it’s a reminder not to tarnish an entire religion based on the actions of a violent criminal (something which was only made more pertinent by the killing of 132 children in a Pakistan school), but it’s a lot more than that too.
It’s a reminder that we’re all different, but that if we can find it within ourselves to stand with people who have a different religion, or skin colour, or set of chromosomes, to our own then the people who would see those divisions highlighted for their own gain start to seem a lot smaller. The overwhelming mass of humanity will do that to you. #IllRideWithYou. #IllBreatheWithYou. #IllGameWithYou.
Image: Descrier via Flickr.