In the wake of the ‘Sydney Siege’ of 2014, Australians took to social media across the country with the aggregator “#illridewithyou”. Rather than being a running commentary of the fallout of the siege, this campaign was a pledge by users attempting to alleviate fears or concerns within Australian communities. Rather than relating to the siege itself, the hashtag was aimed at Muslim members of the community who, out of fear of backlash or religiously/racially motivated reprisal attacks, felt unsafe walking or riding public transport alone. The tweets bearing the hashtag featured brief descriptions of the user, public transport or walking routes taken by the user and the offer for further contact. In as little as 24 hours from the birth of the hashtag there were a reported 120,000 tweets alone (Ruppert, 2014), growing exponentially before fading in the weeks after the attack.
On the 13th of August, 2016, in the New York borough of Queens, 2 Muslim men walking from afternoon prayers were shot and killed. Though unconfirmed, in the lack of any other motive, local authorities theorised that the act was indeed a religiously motivated hate crime (Cherelus, 2016). Amidst the perception of a heightened threat to the New York Muslim community, #illridewithyou and the similar #illwalkwithyou rose and returned to prominence on social media, this time on the streets and trains of New York (ABC, 2016).
Of course, as well meaning as these declarations are, in wake of both the Sydney and New York violence, there is little empirical evidence to suggest a great deal of application or real world movement. Anecdotally, the tweets that rose in the wake of the ‘Sydney Siege’ are more practical in nature, more frequently giving specific routes and times to ‘ride with’ another member of the community – as demonstrated by this time specific search on Twitter Analytics compared to a similar reading on the 2016 NYC campaign, which appeared to focus on general support for the affected communities.
Practicality is key to understanding these two campaigns. In the wake of supposed terrorist events or hate crimes, most member of the public feel helpless to respond to the attack (Ahmed, 2015, p. 550). With the simple practicality of these campaign, people are able to physically meet with people and take what they saw as a step against extremism.
Other campaigns have rocked social media in the wake of terror attacks. While #illwalkwithyou and #illridewithyou allow people to protect in the case of a perceived threat, similar principles can be utilised to protect against ongoing, active threats. In the midst of the 2015 November Paris attacks, Parisians in affected districts took to social media with the hashtag #PorteOuverte, offering those trapped on the streets shelter (Graham-Harris & Mcveigh, 2015). Literally meaning “open door”, the hashtag allowed Parisian citizens to take action against the attacks rocking their city.
The popularity of these campaigns all reflect the want of the public to take physical action against attacks. Simultaneously, the accessibility of the physical actions promised by the hashtags allowed otherwise simple, everyday actions to become unified stances against extremism. This is opposition to similar campaigns, i.e. #blacklivesmatter or #JeSuisCharlie, which carry political messages but do not invite a particular, simple action.
The hashtags all called for simple actions anyone could take, alleviating the powerlessness that people feel in the wake of attacks. By focusing on the local, the simple and the immediately accessible, these campaigns were able to make the leap from simple social media activism to real world influence – however minor. It is because of this that these campaigns should be remember and, if necessary, emulated.
ABC, 2016, ‘#IllWalkWithYou campaign kicks off on social media in support of US Muslims after fatal shooting’, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, August 14, viewed 20/8/16 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-14/illwalkwithyou-trends-in-support-of-muslims-after-fatal-shooting/7733042
Ahmed, S 2015, ‘The ‘emotionalization of the “war on terror”’: Counter-terrorism, fear, risk, insecurity and helplessness’, Criminology & Criminal Justice: An International Journal, 15, 5, p. 545
Cherelus, G 2016, ‘New York man in court charged with murdering Muslim cleric, assistant’, Reuters, August 17, viewed 20/8/16 http://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-shooting-idUSKCN10O0X4
Graham-Harrison, E & McVeigh, T 2015, ‘Parisians throw open doors in wake of attacks, but Muslims fear repercussions’, Guardian, November 15, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/14/paris-attacks-people-throw-open-doors-to-help
Ruppert, B 2014, ‘Martin Place siege: #illridewithyou hashtag goes viral’, Sydney Morning Herald, December 16, viewed 20/8/16 http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/martin-place-siege-illridewithyou-hashtag-goes-viral-20141215-127rm1.html