I must confess that, by the time a year is over and I have to pen my retrospective, I generally tend to be a gloomy gus. As I look back at 2015, my initial instinct was to channel some doom and make dire prophecies of the world’s rapidly-warming future. Especially because my personalised and customised social media networks insist on creating a snapshot made of happy selfies and indulgent moments of unabashed narcissism. There is a growing despondency which makes me believe that the internet has lost its teeth and we are all going to devolve into infantilised lifestyles, in which we shall be watched over by machines of loving grace.
However, just before I donned my despondent eye on the year that has been, something extraordinary happened; Twitter released a list of hashtags that trended globally in 2015. Instead of finding celebrity adulation, privately-promoted tags, persistent moments of name calling and inane acts of trolling — which is what the executive summary of the social web can be reduced to — I was pleasantly taken aback at the hashtags that ruled this year.
Top on the list, globally, was #PrayForParis as expressions of shocked solidarity and compassionate camaraderie flew from around the world, condemning the hateful acts of terrorism. The hashtag is important not only because it shows the human capacity for empathy, but also because it revealed our collective blindness towards geographies — where acts of death and destruction are so naturalised that their everyday occurrence does not even find mention in a throwaway news filler.
#PrayForParis echoed the wonderful show of arms against terror with #JeSuisCharlie, but it also instigated a global debate on why we are shaken only when certain privileged parts of the world are under threat, and how we need to pay more attention to the jaded nature of our political apathy when we refuse to find love and acceptance for the refugees fleeing their unlivable lives. It isn’t a surprise then that #RefugeesWelcome also found a spot in the trending hashtags as more people — spurred by pictures of a three-year-old dead on European shores — demanded that our views of what constitutes life and its value need to be re-examined.
Not all fights are against something. Some fights are also for something. In the global landscape, the US and Ireland both became countries that stood for equality and acceptance as they legalised same-sex marriage. Facebook profiles donned rainbow flags and #MarriageEquality, #LoveWins and #HomeToVote endorsed the fact that our battles to build just societies are not merely for those being discriminated against. The collective conscience of the world seems to have resonated knowing that certain basic human rights to live and love have conquered bigotry and hatred. Similarly, across the US and other parts of the world that are struggling with blatant acts of racism, #BlackLivesMatter soared in usage as people demanded that we start an open dialogue around structural forms of discrimination and abuse that are built into our everyday lives.
On the home front — as we continue to follow #AccheDin — we also went full throttle discussing #Elections2015 as we saw the epic struggle for power in New Delhi and Bihar. The dramatic revelations and upheavals — and the accompanying political commentary peppered with random acts of trolling — kept us busy. But, all differences were swept away as our minds and hearts were arrested by the calamitous effects of #ChennaiFloods. Hundreds of thousands of users came together to document the impact, to mitigate crises, to identify victims, to donate resources and money, and to tell us stories of human love, kindness, bravery and fortitude as we saw an entire city resiliently raise its head over water.
Similarly, as the internet came under threat from profit-driven entities that seek to subvert the foundational values of freedom and transparency online, #NetNeutrality went viral, leading to more than a million signatures on a campaign fighting against dubious movements like #FreeBasics.
Not all battles are about the good and the bad, some are about what colour a dress is. The optical illusion that made the world go berserk as people (including Taylor Swift) hotly debated whether the dress was #BlueandBlack or #WhiteandGold made sure that the hashtags became the most used in the year with 4.4 million tweets.
All in all, looking back at 2015, while there have been many ups and downs — with the downward curves leaving more lasting impressions — the hashtag summary shows that the human spirit for solidarity, equality, empathy, care, and for laughter continues to rise in the face of crises. It gives me hope that when we turn our faces to welcome the new year — even as we see the challenges ahead — we will remember that somewhere out there is a hashtag, waiting to change the world for the better. #HNY2016.