#BlackLivesMatter Chosen as 2014 Digital Trend of the Year

December 16, 2014

Researchers for the Digital Folklore Project housed in Utah State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences announced on December 15 that #BlackLivesMatter is the 2014 Digital Trend of the Year. Overall, researchers note that sex, death, race, and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dominated digital conversations in 2014.

#BlackLivesMatter is a Twitter hashtag that gained popularity after the events of Ferguson, Missouri, where unarmed black teen Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer. After a Staten Island grand jury’s decision to acquit a white police officer accused of using a chokehold on Eric Garner, another unarmed black man who later died from his injuries, the hashtag became almost ubiquitous on Twitter, galvanizing protests and “die-ins” nationwide. It also spawned related hashtags such as #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, #HandsUpDontShoot, and #ICantBreathe.

“#BlackLivesMatter became a home for personal experience narratives and a national conversation about race that spilled onto American streets when protestors carried signs with the hashtag,” said Dr. Jeannie B. Thomas, co-director of the DFP. “#BlackLivesMatter captures an historic moment in American race relations.”

Coming in at a tie for second place were the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and #NotYourMascot.

“A trend like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a phenomenal expression of shared cultural values. Initially, people were simply excited to engage in charity; later on, suspicion set in as legends circulated that the money wasn't actually going to the right places or that immense amounts of water were being wasted,” said Dr. Lynne McNeill, co-director of the DFP. “Creative adaptations of the custom gave us ways to mediate our concerns, such as the versions that eliminated the wasted water and simply filmed the writing of a check.”

#NotYourMascot is a hashtag started by Native protestors to change the names of such athletics franchises as the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs, names which are considered by many to be racial slurs. The hashtag has been influential in allowing the public to recognize the experiences of Native peoples. As one #NotYourMascot tweet said, “Social media has given Native people a voice.”

"This hashtag and related hashtags have been successful in drawing attention to an important matter of cultural and intellectual property: the ownership of Native identity by Native people,” Thomas said.

Other finalists included #GamerGate, Robin Williams visual memorials, #YesAllWomen, and #CelebGate2014.

The Digital Trend of the Year is chosen by a national panel of judges based on the following five criteria: dynamic variation, folkloric (trend falls within a specific genre); grassroots (started by people and not corporations); persistent over time, and culturally significant overall.

The Digital Folklore Project will continue to release Digital Trends of the Year on an annual basis. Questions should be directed to digitalfolkloreproject@gmail.com, or by telephone at (435) 797-2733. Ideas for the next Digital Trend of the Year, can be tweeted using the hashtag #DigitalTrendOfTheYear.