Sydney: A hashtag for a city (and world) in need of healing

By Anne Collier

“The city is now in mourning,” wrote author, researcher and Sydney resident Nina Funnell to a group of colleagues in the wake of the horrific siege in a financial district chocolate shop. Australians (all of us, really) are trying to make sense of the attack, The Australian reported, invoking 9/11 and attacks since then in Madrid, London and Boston.

“But out of all this horror, there have been some truly beautiful moments of humanity,” Nina wrote us. #Sydneysiege wasn’t the only hashtag about the attack that went viral this week.

“While a small minority of members of the public began talking about reprisals against the Muslim community, a much larger group of people have banded together on Twitter to express solidarity with the Australian Muslim community.

“On seeing that Muslim women were taking off their hijabs on public transport to avoid harassment and abuse, one young woman began a hashtag on Twitter, offering to ride to work the next day with any Muslim people who felt afraid or who wanted support.

#illridewithyou trended fast

“And so the #illridewithyou hashtag got kicked off,” Nina wrote. Within hours it had been used in almost 120,000 tweets, Australia’s ABC News reported Monday night. ” ABC told the story in “Meet Tessa Kum, the woman who started #illridewithyou.” It started in Facebook, where Brisbane resident Rachael Jacobs posted that she’d seen a distressed Muslim woman on a train take off her hijab and had approached [her] at the train station and simply said, “Put it back on, I’ll walk with you’.” On seeing that, Tessa tweeted, “If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you….” Her next tweet said, “Maybe start a hashtag … ‪#illridewithyou?”

“To give an idea of what it’s like on the ground here,” Nina wrote us Tuesday, “my Facebook feed has been absolutely inundated with almost everyone I know detailing which route they take to work and offering to ride with any Muslim person who feels afraid to travel on public transport.

“It’s quite remarkable to watch this spontaneous groundswell of people putting up their hands and saying ‘i’ll walk beside you’ (and meaning it quite literally). And while the hashtag will no doubt attract criticism for being an example of ‘white helping’ and paternalistic protectionism, there’s also a very clear expression of a desire to be an ally, and right now with all the fear and surging emotions in the air, it is precisely what our city needs in order to begin healing.”

I think what we’re seeing is the human race crowd-sourcing, in real time, solutions to acts of violence. And because the human brain has a “negativity bias,” we need to capture these case studies, as Nina put it, “of a community’s outpouring of solidarity, love and support.” This is the social norm.

Related links

  • How Sydney hostage tragedy changes Australia,” a commentary by Australian author Max Barry at
  • “There seems to be a new age of activism rising,” wrote columnist Charles Blow in the New York Times. “It’s often diffuse. It’s often organic and largely leaderless. It’s often about a primary event but also myriad secondary ones. It is, in a way, a social network approach to social justice….”
  • My post about social action and social media last June: “Solving social problems: The social media jujitsu remix,” pointing to Elyse Hogue’s talk about the steps people are increasingly taking – from an individual or group being victimized to activists seeking change – to make all kinds of things better
  • Author, journalist and social commentator with a particular interest in youth, gender, social justice and technology, Nina Funnell serves on the board of the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre board in Australia and is an advocate for the rights of young people. Nina is the co-author of Loveability: An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships.
  • Share One Good Thing you’ve noticed or done to make the world a better place: Big or small, each good thing is important and, when it exposed, encourages us all.