How a hashtag hoax offers a sobering counter to romantic optimism about Twitter

Opinion: #endfathersday campaign was aimed at discrediting feminism

‘After a few initial prods and pokes, virtually all the opponents of Father’s Day seemed to have retreated into the digital mist. The mob had lit their torches and advanced to the burning windmill, but Frankenstein’s creature was nowhere to be found.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘After a few initial prods and pokes, virtually all the opponents of Father’s Day seemed to have retreated into the digital mist. The mob had lit their torches and advanced to the burning windmill, but Frankenstein’s creature was nowhere to be found.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 07:36

Oh, those Women’s Libbers! They’re always burning their brassieres and throwing flour at Bob Hope. Then they expect you to pull the chair out for them at dinner. What do they want, at all?

The latest example of boiler-suited feather-headedness involves a disgraceful hashtag on this Twitter thing. Last weekend, as decent dads looked forward to breakfast in bed and a new pair of slippers, the Femi-Nazis launched a campaign to abolish Father’s Day forever. Users of the microblogging site were invited to click #endfathersday and confirm that, as perennial instigator of domestic violence, the patriarchy (meant literally, in this instance) deserved no such celebration.

Before too long, various men’s rights nuts were logging on to point out that this was an utterly typical and entirely unsurprising emanation of the women’s movement. Meanwhile, sensible feminists – and fellow travellers – turned up to argue that only the most unhinged extremist would support such a campaign. The unlikely alliance handed out quite a drubbing to the hashtag’s supporters.

Hang on a moment. Where were the originators of the campaign? With whom was the unholy axis arguing? After a few initial prods and pokes, virtually all the opponents of Father’s Day seemed to have retreated into the digital mist. The mob had lit their torches and advanced to the burning windmill, but Frankenstein’s creature was nowhere to be found.

Hoax

The hashtag was, of course, a hoax aimed at discrediting feminism and stirring up division among those concerned with social justice. The campaign seems to have been suggested on 4chan, an anonymous “imageboard” site, and then propagated via invented and falsified Twitter accounts. “Instead of Fathers Day we need Castration Day” was one of the more notorious messages from a fictional user. By Sunday evening, the hashtag had become a genuine phenomenon.

There is grim news here about the continuing attempts by reactionaries to put women back in their boxes. You don’t have to believe the more fantastic scare stories about these largely ad hoc movements to feel a little nervy about the state of the digital polity. It’s a rough playground out there.

At least as interesting, however, are the lessons about what drives debate on social media. If the evangelists were to be believed, the rise of Twitter opened up the possibility for conversations on topics large and small. Nation would speak onto nation. Lion would make peace with lamb. Something else that sounds like a line from Shelley would happen to boot.

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