Back in 2007, most people didn’t really get the purpose of having a pound sign on their keyboards. But before long it became something of a cultural phenomenon. By connecting over our common and clickable keywords we used hashtags to transform the way we talk to each other.
Last week we saw the rapid spread of #MeToo, uniting men and women from around the globe in their effort to expose the shocking prevalence of sexual misconduct. Those two small words carried a world of meaning and revelation. It may be hard to imagine that a symbol on our screens made that possible, but I for one am amazed – and frankly relieved – that hashtags now go beyond #throwbackthursday and #sundayfunday. Despite some folks catching flak for shifting the onus of sexual assault from aggressors to survivors, I cannot help but admire how a hashtag helped unify complete strangers in spreading awareness about a rampant issue and making it a little less shameful to talk about.
Even more enlightening is the fact that there actually was an earlier #MeToo movement created by an African-American woman named Tarana Burke, long before hashtags existed. Although it wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or hashtag, she used that catchphrase to connect and radically heal sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities. Both campaigns drove social change at an incredibly personal level, but the one with the hashtag opened up the same conversation to millions of people. To me, that is a testament to the power of a pound sign.
Malcolm Gladwell once stated that the revolution will not be tweeted. After #ArabSpring, #BlackLivesMatter, #IceBucketChallenge and #JeSuisCharlie, I’m not sure we can hold him to that. There is some merit to the argument that activism of this sort can be ineffective Twitter do-gooding. But we’re living in hashtag nation, and while hashtags aren’t meant to carry out entire revolutions, they can help start one.
#LikeAGirl is a fascinating example of an everyday brand like Always using its clout to comment on societal norms and question our notions of strength. Will other brands continue to use this social media shorthand to sell us more stuff? Or will they use it to give a voice to those without a platform and turn small ideas into massive movements? #OnlyTimeWillTell