#ChapelHillShooting: BBC Tracks Down Man Who Started The Hashtag

Feb 12, 2015

Credit BBC

On Tuesday, three individuals were murdered near the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  All three were Muslim. 

Almost immediately, the story began spreading across the world, gaining international traction with #MuslimLivesMatter and #ChapelHillShooting. 

Mukul Devichand is responsible for tracking trending stories for the BBC. He writes:

More than 2m people all over the world have now used the hashtag #ChapelHillShooting to express their condolences over the shooting of three Muslim students in North Carolina.

A quarter of a million people used the phrase "Muslim Lives Matter" on Twitter. Many of them - including the father of two of the victims - have said that the shootings were a hate crime based on the victims' faith.

It's 'very rare that I've seen something spread so quickly before the facts of the case are really known.'

Devichand notes that the hashtag #ChapelHillShooting was used very soon after the case was reported anywhere.

The morning after the violence, it was a top trend in the U.S. and through the day the term spread in the U.K., and then across the Middle East as well to countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

"A remarkable...very rare that I've seen something spread so quickly before the facts of the case are really known," says Devichand, adding that the hashtags have become so popular because they are resonating in Muslim communities.

#JeSuisMuslim is a term that echoes one used in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in  Paris, #JeSuisCharlie. (In that case, Muslim extremists targeted non-Muslims in the violence.)

Devichand tracked down the first use of #ChapelHillShooting to an activist at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, DC.

"He was the one who sort of pushed this, talking about the sort of senseless violence, asking people to pray for the victims," says Devichand. However, soon that man's tweets took a different tone,  a worry that the media wasn't picking up on the story because the victims were Muslim.

Devichand talked with the activist and asked him whether or not he felt that he jumped the gun. 'Shouldn't you want have waited for the full facts to come out?' wondered Devichand?

And the man admitted it, says Devichand. "Yes, he made an assumption given the circumstances that it was a hate crime. But, he says, 'You cannot blame the Arab and Muslim community for believing that.'"

"In a way this captures an anxiety that .. people are feeling. It's a conversation about terrorism, about victims, about Islam and the rest. And people are wondering where the balance lies. What's fair? Who should be considered a terrorist? Who should be considered a murderer? What should be considered a hate crime?

"And I think that anxiety has been perfectly expressed by people's initial reading of this, whatever the facts turn out to be."