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#JeSuisCharlie - How A Hashtag Made History

Je suis Charlie: an iconic symbol of humanity standing united in grief, recognized around the world for supporting free speech and resisting armed threats. It sparked conversation regardless of race, religion, language or location. The phrase has revolutionized the way we talk about the ongoing threat of terror, and shows a united front against it.

But where did it start? As a hashtag.

Tweeted at a rate of 6,500 times a minute, and featured in 3.4 million tweets in 24 hours, it was emblazoned on the front pages of newspapers, on the signs carried by protesters, mourners, and heads of states, and even on the defiant cover of the concluding issue1178 of Charlie Hebdo.

Hashtags have been used as category tags and filters in Social Media for a long time, but have now evolved to become the way that the world speaks about current affairs, breaking news, global issues and trends. Why let the media decide and dictate how and where the world can speak and be heard, especially given that mainstream news stations are so far removed and ill-informed about events on the ground (see #FoxNewsFacts for a prime example). The power is now in the hands of the people. We can create, curate and critically broadcast our opinions and feelings and shape history with our words.

The #illridewithyou movement in Australia, where non-Muslim commuters posted signs reading 'I'll Ride With You' to signal safety and companionship to any Muslims who felt threatened in the context of recent terror attacks, spread like wildfire via Social Media and caused a world movement where cultures united in solidarity; the exact cultures who were coming up against each other with extremism. It's yet another beautiful example of how a simple phrase resulted in an outpouring of human kindness, that touched the hearts and minds of so many, prompting them to think differently and demonstrate true empathy and generosity. All of this, beautifully summed up in 15 characters.

So rather than thinking of Social Media simply as a way of promoting brands, products or ourselves; we should really understand it as a way to tell stories, as a catalyst for conversation, debate and action. As this trend develops, will we move away from a broadcast society where we consume media, and into to an environment where we tell the stories that we want to hear? In this new world, the narrative is driven forward by crowd sourced opinion, satire and involvement. And isn't that exactly what Charlie Hebdo stood for?

It seems that trying to silence the cartoonists backfired; the involvement of the world via Social Media means that everyone will explore their thoughts for years to come. They have become a key part in the history of the modern world. #IAMCHARLIE imitates life….