Cultural shifts courtesy of # and @

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Here goes for a Monday revelation: social media is one powerful cultural influencer. Insightful – I know.

OK, so there’s nothing new in that statement – but the level of persuasion that it has on how we view and shape the world is far deeper than I ever gave it credit for. We all know the superficial steer that Twitter and Facebook can have in spreading popular opinion, but it seems more serious debates are also being fought and won via social media too.

According to the BBC’s Ouch disability blog, the mighty hashtag is playing its part in driving awareness about disability discrimination and generating wider social acceptance around the word ‘ableism’.

The fact that Microsoft Word immediately puts a red squiggly line under it means we’re a little way off from it being commonly used alongside the likes of racism and sexism. However, Twitter campaigns such as #StopAbleismBecause are going some way to not only providing people with a stronger voice, but making relatively new words and phrases socially acceptable and understood.

The Ouch blog quite rightly points out that racial and sexual discrimination can be expressed a little more easily due to having their own single word. According to commentators, the word ‘ableism’ only graced these shores some five years ago. Despite making it into the Oxford English Dictionary, it seems the word’s growing usage via social media platforms is what’s making the job of campaigners that little bit easier.

We’re often too quick to flag up the PR disasters that stem from Tweets and status updates; it’s refreshing to see how positive cultural and social shifts are playing out online thanks to the emergence of the hashtag and @ sign.