On 15 December 2014 self-described Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis took 17 people hostage in a café in Martin Place, Sydney. A police raid ended the siege on 16 December. Monis and two hostages, Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, were killed. Three hostages were injured.
Late on 15 December Brisbane commuter Rachael Jacobs posted on Facebook about her encounter with a Muslim woman earlier that day:
…And the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train
silently removes her hijab. I ran after her at the train station. I
said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged
me for about a minute — then walked off alone.
Jacobs’ post quickly circulated, inspiring @sirtessa (Sydney woman Tessa Kum) to offer to accompany on public transport any Muslims fearing potential racially-motivated abuse provoked by the siege. After @sirtessa created a new hashtag, #illridewithyou, Twitter users around Australia tweeted their support and solidarity to Muslim Australians. By 16 December the hashtag had been used more than half a million times worldwide. Crikey journalist Jennifer Doggett called the campaign an ‘exercise in viral empathy’.
Jacobs soon confessed that her encounter with the Muslim woman was fictionalised. Nevertheless, Melbourne student Stephanie Speirs was inspired to create and distribute 1,000 #I’llridewithyou badges to commuters as part of a broader anti-racism campaign advocating practical acts of kindness. As Spiers told ABC radio:
There’s a lot of people that might not be using Facebook or Twitter
that maybe need that offer of assistance. Why not make a real-world
hashtag as well?