#WorldChanging

From downing cinnamon to flipping bottles, nothing characterizes the digital age more distinctively than its viral trends and challenges. As fads appear and disappear more rapidly than ever before, it is easy to view these trends as overhyped crazes. After all, do rainbow bagels truly have a deeper meaning? Yet despite being seemingly superficial, fads have been able to spread to almost every corner of the Earth along with the rise of social media. Beyond catchy hashtags, internet trends are reinventing traditional media and more importantly, redefining issues worth sharing. While trends may become popular simply because they are amusing or shocking, social media content can be an undeniably powerful vehicle for change.

For instance, beginning in 2014, more than 17 million people dumped icy water on themselves for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Due to its eye-catching shareability and reciprocity, this trend raised more than $115 million dollars for the Amyotyophic Lateral Sclerosis Association – compared to just $2.5 million dollars in previous years- making it an unprecedently successful charity campaign and sparking numerous recreations to benefit other charities. The unique format of the Ice Bucket Challenge as an internet trend allowed for the content to ripple through social media while still remaining uniquely personal, which served as an effective way to generate widespread awareness.

Similarly, the environmental movement has embraced social media to support environmental campaigns and to globally connect people on issues such as climate change. Trends in the form of hashtags like #noDAPL (2016) and #actonclimate have shined light on key issues like environmental protection. These short, memorable phrases have become rallying cries, giving rise to worldwide responses to protests like the Standing Rock Protest and the People’s Climate March among many others.  Owing to their concise and catchy nature, hashtags have become a popular and influential way to connect the public around a common name for a cause. Especially on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, hashtags have been an influential way for people to share stories about their local environments, like the Californian drought, and connect them to larger conservational topics.  Thus, trending hashtags have given rise to a new era of activism in which each individual has more opportunities to share and advocate on a globalized scale. 

More recently in 2018, nine high-school Chinese-Australian students created a Facebook group to share anecdotes and jokes about being first-generation Asian-Australians. They named the page “Subtle Asian Traits", and within a few months, it had become one of most popular groups on Facebook, boasting more than one million members from all over the world. The popularity and potential of “Subtle Asian Traits” lies in the emergence of online platforms that accessibly facilitate new ways to discuss and express Asian identities. With the skyrocketing growth of “Subtle Asian Traits”, its content is advancing the ways in which Asian communities are supporting themselves and each other as well as generating mass media attention towards issues such as representation and racial discrimination.

Thus, from spreading awareness to promoting reforms, social media is sparking unsubtly widespread revolutions. Although many fads may be simply fun or downright nonsensical, the awareness and discourse that can be generated with internet trends are opening up new worlds of possibilities, starting from right at your fingertips.