#Rewind2015: Social media as a force for good

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 28, 2015 13:10 IST

Vicious ‘trolls’ and unending reels of selfies and pictures of the mundane on social media timelines can get unnerving.

But the silliness and futility aside, there have been several instances this year that saw the all-pervading social media being used for good.

Hashtags became powerful rallying cries and an effective means to mobilise mass support and spread awareness on key issues.

Here, we take you through some of the most influential moments online that restored hope in humanity in a year marked by rising conflict and hostility.

1) #JeSuisCharlie

The January attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo and the one in Paris in November were the most talked about events on Twitter this year, according to a blog post published by the platform.

The series of coordinated attacks on November 13 saw the resurgence of the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, harking back to the event that took place in the City of Lights only 10 months prior that saw terrorists barge into the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people.

The meaning of the phrase went beyond just expressing solidarity with the victims as it became a defiant slogan upholding the freedom of expression. In less than a week, the use of the hashtag crossed 6.6 million times.

2) #PorteOuverte

The Paris attacks in November also gave rise to the hashtag #PorteOuverte, which means open doors. It was used by Parisians to extend support to others who were stranded in the city after the multiple attacks.

3) #ChennaiRainsHelp

The effectiveness of a Twitter hashtag in crowdsourcing help was also made evident during the unseasonal rains that hit Tamil Nadu this year. What began as a few helpful tweets extending support to the homeless in Chennai became Google spreadsheets and websites that collated where food, shelter and medical support were available.

(@madaraasi on Twitter)

Radha the milk maid who carried on with a usual morning routine. One of the images that went viral on Twitter during the floods.

4) #NepalQuakeRelief

The massive earthquake that struck Nepal in April was one natural disaster that saw social networking platforms being used to disseminate information and help local teams coordinate their relief efforts. Twitter promoted the hashtag #NepalQuakeRelief and linked it to the account @InCrisisRelief.

Scores of individuals and organisations made use of social media to mobilise volunteers and funding to help the millions affected by the earthquake that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale.

5) Battling sexism through #HackAHairDryer, #DistractinglySexy

Online campaigns championing gender equality also featured prominently this year. Trends that went viral worldwide such as #HackAHairDryer and #DistractinglySexy tackled sexist comments by individuals and institutions that discriminated against women working in the fields of science and technology.

The latter phrase was used by women scientists in response to Nobel laureate Tim Hunt’s suggestion that there ought to be ‘single-sex’ labs as ‘girls’ cause men to fall in love with them and cry when criticised.

#HackAHairDryer was an attempt by tech giant IBM to encourage more women to get interested in technology. But it backfired as women working in science, technology, engineering and maths or STEM careers condemned the campaign as patronising and sexist.

6) #PadsAgainstSexism, #HappyToBleed

Closer home, the #PadsAgainstSexism campaign spread like wildfire across the country with women protesting the stigma associated with menstruation. The online movement spilled on university campuses, starting at Jamia Millia Islamia, as students put up sanitary pads with protest messages on them.

Keeping in line with the same message against gender discrimination and treating menstruation as a taboo subject, another campaign called #HappytoBleed took off later in the year. It was sparked after an official of Kerala’s ‘men-only’ Sabarimala temple said that women would be allowed to make the pilgrimage to the site only when a machine to screen for ‘purity’ is invented.

(Pads Against Sexism - Delhi )

7) #RefugeesWelcome, #IStandWithAhmed

The threat posed by the Islamic State terror group and the refugee crisis was and continues to be the most pressing issue facing the world today and the internet has had its say on the subjects in myriad different ways. One of them was the heartening #RefugeesWelcome hashtag that put pressure on governments to up their intake of refugees fleeing conflict zones.

The IS threat has invariably led to a rise in xenophobia in the west and campaigns such as #IStandWithAhmed – which started in America after a boy was wrongly persecuted because his harmless science project was mistaken for a bomb – made it clear that there was a strong and vocal opposition against racism.

Nasa, Silicon Valley giants Facebook and Google and US President Barack Obama joined supporters rallying around the teenager.

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