The #hashtag effect

by Dan Rupple

Over the past few awards seasons, the “voice” that overshadowed “And the winner is . . .” was the collective voice of an industry crying out about harassment, offenses, or injustices. You may or may not agree with the ideologies behind one or two of these voices, but it’s hard to deny the pain in the hearts they come from.

Heartbreaking accounts of sexual leveraging or the infamous “casting couch” have long been emanating from the private sanctum of the media industry. Throughout the decades, with an increase seen in the 90’s, numerous individual voices made public allegations of abuse. But why did these previous voices stay individualized? How, suddenly, do today’s voices get amplified? Why are they only now sparking the media industry and cultural change?

All too often, fear of exposure or shame will lead a person to believe the deadly lie that they are alone in their struggles, that no one else cares, that they  are stuck in their affliction with no possible relief or rescue in sight.

Then they hear a voice. A singular, courageous voice standing up, saying, “This is my experience . . . .” And the hearer cries, “That’s my experience too! I am not alone in this battle, this struggle; I am not alone in this journey!”

And a discovery is made. By standing in solidarity with others who have been hurt as they have, a solitary voice can become a collective voice. And with the assistance of a #hashtag, this “voice of the voiceless” can spread throughout varied social media platforms, increasing in volume. When that occurs, what began as a “still, small voice” can suddenly spark a movement . . . a movement for cultural change, as “private pain made public” gives the world a sense of the magnitude of the problem!

This is what we are seeing within the media industry. The collective voices of innumerable victims are being heard, and the media world is responding. It has been termed “empowerment through empathy” with a proactive focus on determining the best ways to hold perpetrators responsible and to stop the cycle.

I can’t help but think of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 9). Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector in Jericho, despised and vilified by the Jewish community. Shunned by society, he suffered alone. Until one day when a huge crowd gathers to see Jesus. Zacchaeus, a man short in stature, climbs high up into a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of this man of peace. Zacchaeus’ life is changed, because not only did he see Jesus, but far more important . . . Jesus saw him!

Zacchaeus realized he wasn’t alone. Someone saw him. Someone acknowledged his pain, his isolation, and his loneliness. And then Jesus did the incomprehensible—He asked to come into Zacchaeus’ home and dine with him.

If social media had been around when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, He might have used #IAMwithU. The Beatitudes were a voice to the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the poor in spirit, the mournful. Jesus was, and still is, telling people the liberating truth that they aren’t alone in their hurt . . . an all-loving God sees us in our pain and walks with us on our journey to healing.

In this unprecedented time of upheaval and despair in the entertainment industry, may God use these digital megaphones and our relational connections to further Mastermedia’s “voice of faith” and spread His dynamic life-changing love, grace, and truth to those who are lonely and isolated.