Thursday, 30 April 2015

Your hashtags didn't spare Chan and Sukumaran



Part I of a two part series - Part II will be an opposing view to the same issue written by DMMP contributor Monica Doumit. 

The feel-gooders and hashtag bandits are out in force again. In the wake of Indonesia's decision to execute Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, thousands have rushed to their keyboards typing #IStandForMercy or #KeepHopeAlive in an effort to show their social media followers they are taking a stand against the "barbaric evil" that is capital punishment. Where were these people during the 10 years Chan and Sukumaran were incarcerated?


Trending hashtags are becoming as narcissistic as selfies. Do people truly believe that displaying greater digital outrage than the preceding person, and using a warm and fuzzy hashtag, will actually change laws or culture? Did the #IllRideWithYou movement actually motivate many people to ride with moderate Muslims? Will the #IStandForMercy push actually change capital punishment laws in Indonesia? Will #BoycottBali help relations between Australia and Indonesia and provide an opportunity for the Australian government to sway Jakarta's stance on the death penalty? Has anyone thought about who will actually suffer if we boycott Bali? Thousands of Balinese people make a pittance from the tourism industry and their livelihood depends on Australians and other foreigners travelling to Bali. Is our gripe against the Indonesian Government and the concept of capital punishment or the humble workers in the tourism industry?

These hashtags are little more than well intentioned, substance-less attempts to look like a caring humanitarian on social media. I wonder how many hash-taggers have written letters to various Government bodies outlining their concern with the death penalty? I wonder how many really cared before last week?

How different would the hash-tagging be if Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was captured? Would we still stand for mercy or would we instantly turn into pro death penalty keyboard warriors? Thousands of people tweeted their support for capital punishment (and worse) when Brett Peter Cowan was caught by police. Seemingly it is horses for courses based on each person's relative feelings on each issue.

I applaud the well meaning, good intentions behind the hashtags and I do believe most people using them have the dignity of human life at heart. But that doesn't mask the fact that out of nowhere, all of a sudden, thousands of social media users are tweeting/posting their hysterical outbursts about the "barbarity" of capital punishment.

Aussies are a patriotic lot, which I like, but it can cause us to don the blinkers in some cases. Where are the feel good hashtags when Indonesian drug smugglers are being executed? Where are they when US citizens are being lethally injected? Why does it take two Aussies to be on death row for the country to adopt a hashtag and what does this achieve?

Hashtags make us feel good, not unsimilar to counting the likes on a carefully posed selfie. Post your rant harder than the preceding person, add the trending hashtag and voilĂ , you've shown the world how good a person you are. Another tick in the personal humanitarian box. 

Hashtags are not used predominantly to actually make a stand or incite change. They are a trend that people latch onto to look as good or better than the last person. They achieve largely nothing. 

My advice would be to drop the self-righteous hashtags and actually get out there and make a change.

All the best,

Photo courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald

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