Why hashtags are Gretel’s breadcrumbs to news that matters

 Lakeidra Chavis/ Sun Star Columnist

Sept. 16, 2014

From #WhyIStayed to #Ferguson, tweets demanded the world’s attention this summer


If you’re looking to start the next grassroots movement for social justice or international accountability, create a hashtag. If we learned one thing this summer, surely it was that, right?

Now more than ever is a good time to know what’s going on around us.

And what better real-life example do we have than the four-months-too-late case of Ray Rice? The Baltimore Ravens officially cut him from the team after video footage surfaced of Rice beating his then-fiance, and now wife, Janay Rice, unconscious in an elevator.

People criticized not only the team’s initially lax handling of the case, but also his wife for defending him after the incident. Women took to Twitter to share their own heartbreaking stories of domestic violence, using the tags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.

The discussion quickly expanded beyond Twitter, with journalists and commentators talking about partner violence in general.

About 25 percent of women, and one in seven of men, will suffer violence from their partner at some point during their life, according to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

And before this, people began to use #ISIS to raise awareness about the newest terrorist threat to the United States, the Islamic Sate.

And before that #Gaza was already taking center stage as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened in both severity and complicity. The tag commanded attention to a perspective we seldom see in the U.S. And when a semi-war zone appeared on the American streets of #Ferguson, people in Gaza were tweeting them suggestions on how to stay safe.

#Ferguson became the go-to for discussing racial tensions in America, criminalization of Black men and the militarization of police.

That hashtag started when unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MI. by a white police officer. The town quickly erupted into days-long protests that often ended violently.

There are plenty of Michael Browns, Janay Rices, and victims of war crimes, and Twitter helps highlight that.

These Twitter movements aren’t the first to prompt social dialogue on hard to swallow, often dim lighted issues in our public sphere, and they won’t be the last.

And what’s so powerful is that we don’t even need to be on Twitter for these stories to reach us. Sooner or later news organizations pick them up and bring them to our newspaper, TV screen or radio. Because now when news organizations are looking for the next story, they’ll start with social media.

So if you’re looking for what’s commanding world attention now, just following the breadcrumbs. They usually start with a tweet.

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