The importance of getting them right-hashtags

 

After a video of NFL player, Ray Rice, punching his fiancée was released to the public on September 8th 2014, it began a movement on Twitter between women of domestic violence. Janay Palmer used the hashtag #WhyIStyayed to explain to society why she remained with her abusive fiancé, Ray Rice. The hashtag, #WhyIStayed, ignited a discussion critiquing Palmer’s decision to stay, rather than Rice’s abusive actions.

Palmer stated, “I stayed because I thought it would get better. It never got any better.”

Beverly Gooden (a survivor of domestic violence) was appalled by these comments, and decided to tell her story about why she stayed on Twitter. Her voice helped encourage other individuals to share their stories and created a network of support and understanding around the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Gooden’s tweets coWhy-I-Stayed.jpgnnected both victims and survivors of abuse together, and facilitated communication among them. Another hashtag began to emerge within the network called #WhyILeft, to support individuals trying to leave abusive relationships. Gooden believes the social media movement she sparked with her tweets changed how the media and the public talk about domestic violence.

“Before as a survivor, when I would read about domestic violence, I would read about it from the angle of ‘here are the statistics,’ etc. Now, I see lots of survivors talking about what they went through,” she said. “Usually, we are being talked about. But that day, we took control of the conversation.”

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Through the hashtag #WhyIStay, new openness and agency was reached by victims and survivors, and individuals realized they were not alone. Twitter became a platform for a larger community of those affected by domestic abuse to rally together and support one another. However, within digital networks, exclusionary implications exist; dissimilarity surrounding equivalent access and exclusionary realities are a couple of the structural inequalities online practices can create. As discussed in our presentation, digital infrastructures can further highlight digital inequalities and simplify advocacy issues; that, in turn, can remove agency from the movement itself.

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The production of digital content can often (dis)empower social movements without one realizing. For example, DiGiorno Pizza tweetted “#WhyIStayed You had pizza,” not understanding the context of the hashtag used. Immediately, individuals criticized DiGiorno Pizza and within minutes the post was taken down. DiGiorno followed by posting, “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting,” and personally responded to the individuals they offended through their post. While DiGiorno Pizza took serious measures to rectify the situation, their mistake took attention away from the original hashtag and meaning behind it, and placed the focus, instead, on DiGirono Pizza…and their pizza sales?

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3 Comments

  1. What an interesting post! this example really emulates the discussions you and Ran facilitated in class surrounding the role of digital media in advocacy. Something as simple as a hashtag can be a point of great empowerment, or a site of controversy. In cases like this, where sharing a story and discussion an issue is the main goal, social media provides the perfect outlet. As you mentioned the issue of domestic violence was at the time of the video, under explored in the public domain. Through the use of twitter and this viral hashtag, the social understanding of domestic abuse change overnight. At the same time though, it is important to consider how this can also function to trivialize such issues. I’m sure that although Di Giorno made use of this hashtag incorrectly do to a lack of research, others purposefully used the hashtag incorrectly to disrupt the discussion.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The role that hashtag has played in social movements recently is very interesting and powerful. We can look at a hashtag as big as #BlackLivesMatter which led the movement to gaining immense amounts of traction and popularity. However, the affordances of hashtags meaning that they gain such visibility so quickly often results in unintentional appropriation, like the Di Giorno situation, or intentional derailing by appropriating or editing the hashtag in the case of #AllLivesMatter. I think this is a good example of the way hashtags can be used to negotiate power. I found similar things happening in the community around #CommutingWhileFemale where some people misused the hashtag to talk about carrying their heels in a backpack, while others actively tried to contradict the purpose of the hashtag by saying things like “#CommutingWhileFemale means feeling totally safe because I don’t assume every man is a rapist”. So while hashtags offer the opportunity for movements to gain traction, their occurrence in a space where response is so effortless allows for increased resistance or oppression.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So interesting how words can truly have such a strong influence on reality, and how such a simple mistake can cause such a domino effect of reactions. Another amazing example of our networked reality.

    Like

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