#ChallengeAccepted: Why the Instagram hashtag went viral, may be ‘self promotional’ and no, it did not originate in Turkey

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Over the past week, you may have noticed that your Instagram feed has been flooded with glamorous black and white photos of your friends, colleagues, celebrities and acquaintances, with a simple caption: #ChallengeAccepted, and a more telling #WomenSupportingWomen hashtag following it. At first, you may have brushed it off, thinking its just one of those many challenges and trends that take up space and time on your feed, maybe one of those ‘let’s confuse men’ challenges. But the hashtag that has over 4.5 million posts on Instagram, with celebrities like Sara Ali Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Paris Hilton, Kerry Washington, and many others is a lot more than just another social media trend. And while it’s great that everyone is participating, it would have a more powerful impact if we know what it is truly about than just post our best pictures and tag our friends to do the same.

While most social media users assumed that the challenge was started to support feminism and show solidarity with other women, the cause is much deeper than that. The hashtag #ChallengeAccepted has been used several times in the past to fuel social media movements like back in 2016 when it was used to spread cancer awareness, and since then it has been used on and off to promote positivity.

Cristine Abram, a public relations and influencer marketing manager for a social media marketing firm, said to the New York Times, “It’s all to do with female empowerment. There was this hashtag that already existed to raise awareness around other large issues. Tapping into that allowed participants to gain traction a lot faster because the algorithm was already familiar with the hashtag.”

#ChallengeAccepted in Turkey

So unlike what your social media feeds may be telling you, the challenge did not originate in Turkey. However, this time around the social media movement is to raise awareness about femicide and domestic violence in Turkey.

New York Times journalist Tariro Mzezewa in a now deleted tweet wrote that she spoke to women in Turkey who said it began there “as a response to them being frustrated over always seeing black and white photos of women who have been killed.”

Turkish Twitter user, Imaan Patel, shared the real reason behind why the movement was started and her post has been a point of reference for many looking for clarity. She wrote, “I see many of my non-Turkish friends sharing black and white photos of themselves as a “challenge” but not knowing the reason or origin of the challenge. So here is my attempt to educate the little following I have. Please share this information if you want to support this movement so the message does not get lost in translation and so that the challenge won’t lose its meaning.”

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She went on to add how Turkey is one of the top countries when it comes to femicide. According to the We Will Stop Femicide online platform, in 2020 alone, over 27 women were murdered by their jealous spouses, partners or in honour killings, while a further 23 suspected femicides have been recorded as well. In fact, it was the recent killing of 27-year-old student Pinar Gültekin by a jealous ex-boyfriend – who strangled and beat her before killing her, then dumped her in a bin and filled it with concrete when he was unable to burn her body – which sent shock waves through Turkey. Women from Turkey, especially the country’s west, took to the streets to protest and express their anger about Pinar’s killing, calling for protection of women.

Imaan’s post went on to explain, “Turkey is one of the top countries when it comes to femicides. Just on 2019 we have had almost 500 RECORDED femicides. Sadly many of them remain unrecorded and we have no real number as to how many women are murdered here every year. Just this week, we have had several women murdered. The government and our justice system does nothing to stop these crimes. Most often the murderers barely get a slap on the wrist or no charges at all.”

She went on to explain the Istanbul Convention and how abolishing certain parts of it would hamper women’s safety in Turkey, “As if this is not enough, our government is trying to abolish certain aspects of Istanbul Convention which is a human rights treaty that protects women against domestic violence. So not only are they not trying to stop it, they’re literally trying to make it legal for them to not stop it.”

Imaan then explained how the social media trend that has gone globally viral began in Turkey, “Turkish people wake up every day to see a black and white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, on their newspapers, on their TV screens. The black and white photo challenge started as a way for women to raise their voice. To stand in solidarity with the women we have lost. To show that one day, it could be their picture that is plastered across news outlets with a black and white filter on top. I have seen many of my international friends participate in this challenge without knowing the meaning. While I am aware that there is no ill will, it is important to remind ourselves why posting a picture with a black and white filter is a “challenge” to begin with.”

Several people are a little skeptical about how posting glamour shots will help the movement at all. Writer Caroline Moss tweeted, “I literally cannot get over challenge accepted. Here’s a hot photo of myself because I support women.”

Taylor Lorenz, a culture reporter for The New York Times received a lot of flak for her article, and thoughts, on the #ChallengeAccepted with several tweets calling her anti women. 

Taylor tweeted, “People love these types of “challenges” because they don’t require any actual advocacy. You can self promote in the name of a cause, but the cause in these #ChallengeAccepted posts is so vague they basically don’t support anything at all.”

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In an interview with NPR, Taylor eloquently put forth why she thought the challenge was just modern-day chain mail (remember those forwards, send to 12 people or you will get ten years of bad luck) when she was asked by the host if mutual appreciation among women needs to ‘take a specific stance on a specific issue in order to be valid’. Taylor responded, “No. But it’s – I mean, in this instance, it was framed as taking a stance on an issue. You know, a lot of people were posting about feminism and women’s empowerment and sort of feminist stuff in these – you know, in the captions of these posts. But they weren’t doing anything. I think if the whole challenge was framed a little bit more neutrally it wouldn’t have been an issue.”

She went on to explain how for some women the challenge was just more social pressure than empowering, “And by the way, you’re saying a lot of women felt great about this. You know, a lot of women felt left out. A lot of women felt social pressure to kind of post. A lot of people don’t like to post photos of themselves on their Instagram or feel that pressure. But, you know, these types of campaigns sort of make them. It’s basically modern-day chainmail.”

#ChallengeAccepted in Egypt

However, there are some who are taking the challenge a step further and fuelling the conversation about similar conversations in their countries. Sarah Magdy, a former BBC Arabic reporter from Egypt wrote about the challenge at length on her Instagram page and spoke of how she has decided to take the challenge to express her desperation after an anti-harassment page that exposed rapists and harassers was forced shut. She wrote, “Today, I’m taking this B&W challenge to Egypt to express my desperation after anti-harassment Egyptian Instagram account @assaultpolice was forced into silence after exposing rapists and harassers like #ABZ and after opening the bone-chilling gang-rape #Fairmontincident, in which it’s reported that 5 affluent Egyptian men drugged a girl, gang-raped her and proudly signed their names on her private parts after they were done with her!!! You can silence one account, but trust me the era of fear and silence is over..I promise we will keep making noise until this issue is properly visited and investigated!”

 

She went on to add, “And instead of sentencing young women, @mawada_eladhm and @_haneenhossamofficial__ , for two bloody years just for posting dance videos on #TikTok accusing them of “violating the values and principles of the Egyptian family, show some justice and punish those who shamelessly violated all the values and principles of humanity! #womensupportingwomen.”

So while on the one hand some women have been using the #WomenSupportingWomen to mostly share glamour shots, others have been trying to use the momentum from the movement to draw attention to important and pressing issues. So whether the challenge is helping or not truly depends on how people are using it. After all, context is king.

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