Cynics are quick to criticize social media campaigns in support of charities or social issues, saying that a hashtag makes it easy for people to indulge in armchair activism, rather than taking the extra step to make a difference in the real world. It may well be that #bringbackourgirls brought no serious pressure to bear on the government of Goodluck Jonathan in finding the more than 200 schoolgirls taken by Boko Haram. After Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage through the streets of Santa Barbara in May 2014, thousands of women posted their personal stories of misogyny and sexual violence with the hashtag #yesallwomen, yet it is unlikely that many of the targeted culprits changed their behavior as a result.
But this week has seen a social media campaign achieve something remarkable – act as a global catharsis. After the death of 25 year old Australian cricketer Philip Hughes after an accident on the field, a nation and the cricketing world at large struggled to come to terms with such a tragic event. Americans are used to the gladiatorial feel of a Saturday football game, and are seemingly immune to the concussions and suicides of former players that have been increasingly made public. But cricket belongs to a more genteel past, where players behave like gentlemen, and play stops for tea. That a fast ball, bowled by Hughes’ friend Sean Abbott, could end up killing a promising young man in the prime of his career struck raw nerves everywhere and grown men cried in public.
An IT worker in Sydney called Paul Taylor decided to make his own small tribute to his hero by placing his cricket bat outside his home and tweeting the photo.
Within days, the hashtag #putoutyourbats had gone viral, not only in Australia but in cricketing nations worldwide. Cricket bats appeared on porches and playing fields across the globe, the campaign acting as a virtual hug for the millions of fans attempting to come to terms with their loss. In an interview with ABC News in Sydney, Taylor said he had since wondered why the idea spread so quickly, putting it down to the simplicity of the idea. “Somebody said to me today ‘a simple picture speaks a thousand words and sometimes those words, you can’t even express it and the picture says it all’.
A lesson in Brutal Simplicity for us all.