It’s ten years this week since Chris Messina suggested on Twitter that we use the # (pound) to organise conversations. To celebrate we’re sharing stories throughout the week that have used a hashtag to great effect and made a lasting impact on Twitter. Today, #BlackLivesMatter.
There have been few social causes over the last decade that have not been accompanied by a hashtag from #Jan25 to #LoveWins. Many have had a tremendous resonance, but few have echoed as loudly and had as much impact as #BlackLivesMatter.
The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag became a call to action from activists that has brought people together through Twitter to fight for a world where black lives do matter. It has been described as a ‘powerful example of how a hashtag now is attached to a movement, and a movement, in some ways, has grown around a hashtag’.*
The power is evidenced in part by the sheer volume of mentions of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. It has been used more than 12 million times since it first started to appear in early 2013 and its use soared following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Its influence grew as others lost their lives including Laquan McDonald, Jamar Clark and Alton Sterling.
Sterling was killed in July 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and protests about his death gave us one of the most iconic images of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In a summer dress blowing in the wind, Leshia Evans approached a line of riot police with graceful defiance. The moment was captured by Reuters photographer Jonathan Bachman in what is now an award winning photograph.
The impact of #BlackLivesMatter illustrates the change in how the world now sits up and pays attention to social causes. When civil right activists in the 1960s wanted to get the word out, they picked up a phone. Now they post it on Twitter. Voices are heard, meaningful conversations take place, and real change does happen.