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 connected 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.”
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.
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?