The Hashtag Effect

The influence of Twitter Hashtags
Rahman Mohamed
Updated 1 February 2017

Social media has been changing the world.  Today people are more interconnected than ever before; more than one person from Greenland can discuss food or politics with users in South Africa and India on Twitter; without leaving their home, seeing each others faces or even knowing their real name they know what’s happening in each others’ life.  Today a man from America can share photos with a lady from China on Facebook.  Eventually they may meet, fall in love, and marry.

Leaders of the world have recognized this.  Political and world leaders are using Twitter, interacting with each other and their Followers more than ever before.  In the 2015 Canadian Federal Election Social Media was used by political leaders and parties to reach Canadians across the Great White North.

Earlier this year, February 12, Bloomberg reported that Facebook has higher earning, users, and is used more frequently than Twitter.  On the other hand Twitter is used more often by urban and higher educated users.  It’s also used more than Facebook to stay in touch with the world.  More recently social movements have taken to social media using Hashtags – words or a phrase with “#” in front.  If you click on a hashtag you see all the public Tweets that have used it, Tweets that have included the hashtag.

#Brexit and #DonaldTrump: trending Twitter hashtags in 2016 – popular hashtags that were included in many Tweets.  They were used to communicate opinions about Brexit, the 2016 American Presidential Election, and the election of President-elect Donald Trump.  Later #NotMyPresident was seen – Americans who were strongly against the election of Donald Trump.  Recently #Calexit appeared, a hashtag suggesting the growing movement of California leaving the United States of America.

First appearing in 2014 #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies continues to be used today.  Created by a Canadian in Fall 2016 and called “a true Canadian” movement #TellAmericaItsGreat appeared during the American election, when Americans were seen as a nation that had lost its way, being forced to choose their next president between Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump.  Both candidates were seen in a negative light by America and the world, Americans viewing voting as being forced to choose the lesser of two evils.  The hashtag was encouraged worldwide to be used in Tweets that included a positive view of America to help Americans raise their spirits, give them hope, and show them there are positive views of America.

In early 2015, in response to the terrorist attack on the office Charlie Hebdo magazine in France, #JeSuisCharlie appeared.  It was used by the public as a symbol standing with a magazine in support of free speech and against terrorism.  January 3 BBC reported that #JeSuisCharlie changed the world, creating a sense of community.  Within days of the attack“#JeNeSuisPasCharlie” [I am not Charlie] – a hashtag in Tweets criticizing Charlie Hebdo and “#JeSuisAhmed” – part of Tweets that support Islam and Muslims and condemn terrorism also hit Twitter.

It also created “#JeSuis” [I am].  Using #JeSuis became a symbol of solidarity, strong support.

Most recently #JeSuisQuebec is being used in response to the shooting in a Quebec, Canada mosque on January 29, 2017.  Although it first appeared in 2015 to promote a liberal Quebec, the movement of separation from Canada, today it is being used worldwide in multiple languages, not only French and English to show solidarity with Canada and Quebec, to condemn the attack, and express sympathy and support with persons affected by the shooting.  Together with messages praising Prime Minister Justin Trudeau policy of acceptance to refugees in response to Donald’s Trump’s ban on entrance to the United States and condemning Fox News for misreporting the shooter, saying he was Moroccan and a Muslim, encouraging others to use the Tweet.

Many have also used the hashtag in Tweets to express frustration at the lack of support for the shooting.

 

On December 15, 2016 “#LetsAllSitWithNadiya” appeared in the United Kingdom responding to a Tweet from Nadiya Jamir Hussain being discriminated for being Muslim.

Nadiya’s Tweet received over 1,600 Replies, 8,300 Retweets, and 20,000 Likes in less than 24 hours of being posted.  Some replies acknowledge that they too were in similar situations.

Some Tweet that they wouldn’t sit with Nadiya or “I wouldn’t want to sit next to one“.  It has also brought arguments about racism, discrimination, and actions of this nature.  Other Tweeters say Muslims are playing victim and are also discriminatory.  Condemnations of Nadiya’s Tweet most often refer to traditional gender separation in Muslim culture saying no Muslim man except her relatives would sit next to her either.

A vast majority of Tweets support Nadiya and refer to the incident as discrimination.  Many condemn the man’s behaviour calling him ignorant, horrible, a “mindless zombie“, one who missed a chance for a selfie, poisonous, that he’s going to have a hard time finding a seat on the train, hoping he had to stand instead of sit, and supporting Nadiya saying “At least you didn’t have to sit next to a dickhead tho – silver linings and all that” and “hope whoever had the ‘pleasure’ of sitting next to him told him the exact same.sorry don’t want to sit by a racist“.  One reply Tweeted “WAIT. Could I put on a hijab and get a seat to myself on a train?! Definitely trying that.

One Retweet included “#LetsAllSitWithNadiya”

Peter, located in UK, says he is “Christian working in peacemaking, reconciliation & community relations in diverse multifaith Luton”.  His profile features a link to <ReconciliationTalk.org>.  His Tweet hasn’t received any replies but has Likes and has been Retweeted.

Another includes “#WeWouldAllSitWithNadiya

@Global_Teacher writes that her name is Lisa Taner and is an MRes/PhD student at Institute of Educational Technology (IET) at the Open University researching global teacher education & OER. Dev’t Education/ EAL background. Her Tweet has been Retweeted and Liked.  Others have included the hashtag (#WeWouldAllSitWithNadiya) in their own Tweets.

Others replied to Nadiya including “sit with” in their Tweet without a hashtag – “most of us would *fight* to be able to sit next to you” or “would push to the front of the queue for the bus to sit with you“.  “#SitWith” appears as a growing “#JeSuis” – a sign of solidarity, support for a person and a stand against discrimination of Islam and Muslims.

Nadiya Hussain is a cook who was born in UK.  She was the winner of the Great British Bake Off 2015.  Her website slogan is “I Can and I Will”.  She has published a cook book, holds signings, has been featured on BBC, and has shared recipes via radio.  The Replies and Hashtags appeared before BBC reported the abuse.

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