Just look at the collection of topics trending on Twitter at any given moment, and you’ll probably see that the Internet can be an interesting place. At the same time people are going online to talk about an important current event or social movement, they’re also posting funny videos and generating ridiculous pop-culture inspired memes.
Social media and Internet culture have reframed the way we consume information by instantly crowdsourcing feedback on every album release, news story, controversy and joke.
2015 saw a mix of serious and goofy, thought-provoking and mindless.
Here’s our look back at 14 Internet moments that defined the year:
Wheaton’s Dispute Over a Professor’s Statement About Islam
In a Facebook post expressing the desire to stand in solidarity with Muslims, Wheaton professor Larycia Hawkins sparked a national debate over theology, Christian education and freedom of expression.
The school didn’t take issue with her wearing a traditional hijab for Advent season or encouraging unity between Christians and Muslims, but the administration said her statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God was “inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal conviction.” Dr. Hawkins has been suspended, and according to a recent interview with The Chicago Tribune, she’s now fighting to keep her job.
I have tenure, and I have to fight for that … What this intimates is I have no religious freedom to articulate my faith in a way that is wholly consistent with centuries of Christian theology and scholarship.
From our piece “#PopeBars Is the Hashtag We Didn’t Know We Needed”:
Miracles still come to the faithful, and that is apparent today after a picture of Pope Francis hit the Internet in which he looks for all the world like he’s about to drop the hottest album of 2015. Twitter fell in love with the picture and started putting together some real lyrics for MC Francis and, what do you know, a lot of them are terrific.
In a moment dubbed “The Viral Singularity,” the image of an ambiguously colored dress seemingly took over the Internet in a matter of minutes. Even after becoming one of the most viral images of all time, the question still remains: Is it white and gold or is it blue and black?
The Muppet ‘Controversy’
While much of the Internet debated the dramatic romantic plot twist in ABC’s reboot of The Muppets (along with debates about whether or not the show is actually even any good), evangelist Franklin Graham sparked a different kind of controversy among his more religious followers. In a Facebook post (which he posted before the show even debuted), Graham called for Kermit to be off the air:
Tonight, ABC is premiering a new “mature version” of The Muppets that reports say will cover a range of topics from sex to drugs to “interspecies relationships” with no subject being off limits. It sounds to me like the whole show should be off limits! Hollywood seems to be in a frenzy to see what new moral low they can reach in their programming. Their agenda is to promote sin to a younger and younger audience. I applaud the group One Million Moms for speaking out against this and urging parents to call on ABC to take it off the air. The Bible says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” That goes for Kermit the Frog as well!
Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ Meme
Sure, “Hotline Bling” is a catchy song. But its Drake’s dad-dancing moves that gave the Internet the year’s most memorable meme.
The Starbucks Cup
A viral video posted by evangelist Joshua Feuerstein sparked one of the year’s most overblown controversies. Feuerstein’s complaints about Starbucks’ attempts to remove Christ from Christmas—by introducing a simple, understated red design—led him to launch his own #MerryChristmasStarbucks campaign. He asked that concerned Christians tell baristas that their name was “Merry Christmas” so it would be written on the cup. Hilarious, right? His angry video sparked more of a backlash than a movement, but not before it caught the attention of at least one presidential hopeful.
Aylan the Refugee
In September, photos (which you can see here) of a young boy named Aylan Kurdi who drowned alongside his mother and 5-year-old brother while fleeing violence in Syria, went viral, and inspired artists around the globe to take up the cause of the Syrian refugee crisis, recreating the heartbreaking image.
The images created an important reminder of the devastating cost many refugee families have paid trying to escape the violence that has torn their country apart—and why they desperately need our help.
In 2015, the radical Islamic terror group galvanized their reputation for extreme brutality by releasing a series of highly produced Internet videos showing them executing groups of Christians, fellow Muslims, members of the gay community and those who oppose their ideology. The videos provided shocking reminders of how savage ISIS really is and the threat they pose throughout the region—and the world.
Though the use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag dates back to 2013, the movement became an inescapable part of the news-cycle in 2015. This year alone, 35 unarmed African-Americans were killed by police. In some some cases, police may have attempted to cover the circumstances of the shootings up. In others, the shootings have gone unpunished. The hashtag has served as a rallying cry—not just to draw attention to police shootings—but systemic injustice. From our article “The Problem with Saying ‘All Lives Matter’”:
The idea that racism remains a very real reality in America is contentious, but it shouldn’t be. The studies proving anti-black racism remains a common, if not foundational reality of everyday American life are too numerous to cite in one article, so we’ll go with just a few.
We might as well begin with pre-school. Black children make up 18 percent of America’s preschool population, but represent nearly half of all out-of-school suspensions. This treatment continues into the court system, where black children are 18 times more likely to be tried as adults than their white peers. It also extends to the job market, in which white college graduates are twice as likely to land a job as black college graduates. We haven’t even gotten to the justice system yet, in which black people are given 20 percent longer sentences than white people are for the same crimes.
What do you get when you combine the Super Bowl half time show, a highly-choreographed Katy Perry performance and a person in a shark suit that appears to just be making things up as they go along? One of the Internet’s great heroes of 2015, of course.
Late Night Goes Viral
In recent years, the late-night landscape has been transformed, as retired personalities like Jay Leno and David Letterman are replaced with the likes of Steven Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden, Larry Wilmore and John Oliver. And unlike the old days, along with the post-11 p.m. airwaves, the new late-night wars are playing out online. 2015 saw late-night comedy evolve into a medium increasingly tailored to be chopped up into YouTube clips, with a sharp, tech-savvy tone made for Internet culture. The success of the new hosts is no longer just measured in TV ratings, but how many videos they can make go viral.
The Ashley Madison Hack
This summer, a group of hackers going by the name “The Impact Team” stole private user information from the affair website Ashley Madison and dumped the entire database online. The leak exposed the names and personal information of thousands of people who had signed up for the website that attempts to help people cheat on their spouses. The leak had a particularly dramatic effect on the Church, where an estimated 400 pastors stepped down after their names surfaced. Even several well-known Christian personalities—notably, reality star and family values advocate Josh Duggar—were found to have used the site.
A somewhat late entry to the list, thanks to “hoverboards” (which are really just Segway-like skateboards) becoming this year’s hot Christmas gift, the Internet was gifted with countless hoverboard fail videos. Though, perhaps none have been more jarring than this one of the former heavyweight champion of the world getting knocked out.
Thanks to a 14-second YouTube video going viral, this hungry rodent walked off of a New York subway platform, and into our hearts forever.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.