Back in 2003, a group of men from South Australia started a surprising new trend that went viral all over the world: they stopped shaving for a month. Not all their faces, mind you. For a whole month each November, they didn’t shave their most visible symbol of masculinity – their moustaches. The cause they did this for was noble: raising money for charity. Movember gained media attention locally – remember, this was a bit before the time of the social media madness – then began spreading all over the world. The group of 80 men from Adelaide grew into a nationwide phenomenon, then spread to South Africa, Europe, reaching the US in 2006. And it didn’t stop ever since. Movember gathered more than 1.1 million participants in 2012, raising $95 million worldwide, and now it has partners like Carlsberg and Google, ambassadors like Snoop Dogg and Frankie Edgar, and supports causes like suicide prevention, men’s health, and the fight against testicular cancer.
The Movember movement is just one of the social movements that started out on (social) media and grew into a global phenomenon, built around #hashtags. Hashtag activism, as this phenomenon is called, is surprisingly effective in the age of social media – here are some of the most successful examples to date.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, sometimes called “Lou Gehrig’s disease” after the American baseball player who was diagnosed with it in 1939, is a degenerative disease affecting neurons in the body, with symptoms like the stiffening of muscles, twitching, muscle weakness, atrophy, and ultimately the loss of the ability to speak, swallow, and breathe. One of the best-known ALS sufferers was physicist Stephen Hawking. To raise awareness about this condition – and to encourage donations to fund its research – a series of ALS associations started the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014.
The challenge involved dumping a bucket filled with ice water on the head of the person taking it (or deferring the ice-cold shower by donating to one of the ALS-related charities) and nominating the next person to take it. As you might expect, the challenge went viral, raising $115 million worldwide, and was taken by celebrities like Hawking himself (who declined the icy shower due to pneumonia), then US President Barack Obama, LeBron James, UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The challenge was revived each year to this day, even though none of them were as successful as the first one.
The inspiration for the #HeForShe campaign came from the United Nations. Its goal is to promote gender equality by taking action against negative stereotypes and behaviours related to gender, backed by actress Emma Watson and Canada prime minister Justin Trudeau and was embraced by men and women all over the world, a series of universities from Belgium to the US, even Chase Bank that put a “HeForShe” banner on its ATMs’ screens with the message “Gender equality is not just a women’s issue; it’s a human rights issue that benefits everyone”.
The media is a powerful tool that shapes the thoughts, words, and actions of the public. The media shapes the values of the public, and when it conveys the wrong message… well, you’ve seen the rest. So, in 2016, a former Corporate Fundraising Officer from Amnesty International from the UK has set up the first StopFundingHate campaign calling on companies like British Airways, Gillette, Lego, Marks & Spencer, and others to stop advertising in a couple of UK newspapers because of their “misleading reporting”. The public embraced the campaign – the first one gathered tens of thousands of signatures and the first campaign video was seen by more than 6 million people around the world. Several major brands responded to the campaign: Lego withdrew its advertising from the Daily Mail, UK ISP Plusnet removed its ads from The Sun, Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains West Coast stopped selling the Daily Mail on its trains, and the list could go on.
While The movement mostly died down ever since the trend has remained: in the last few years, we’ve seen advertisers remove their ads from TV channels and online platforms due to the controversial content published there – basically, they #StopFundingHate themselves.