Much like the Queen (in so many ways), I don’t use much cash these days but I am quite excited to get my hands on the newly released Jane Austen tenner.  In case you’ve all forgotten, this particular piece of currency marks a triumph of social media, which changed the way we use it, and how Twitter itself operates, for good. Cast your mind back to 2013. Women’s Room founder Caroline Criado-Perez, was decidedly miffed that, since Winston Churchill was to replace Elizabeth Fry on the new fiver.  Whilst she had nothing against Winnie himself, it would mean that no women’s achievements were recognised on our bank notes.  Obviously, as thousands of people pointed out, the Queen was on all of them, but that wasn’t the point.  This was about who we choose to recognise in society, and why the achievements of women deserved their place. In the olden days (well, about 2005) that would probably have been about it.  A few grumbles over the coffee machine or pub table, and possibly a stern letter of complaint to your M.P. or the Bank of England itself.

An old fashioned petition

However, there was now Twitter and  Caroline began tweeting about the issue, and asking people to join in, both to sign the petition and suggest other women of note (no pun intended) who could feature. The campaign caught on. Thousands of people who agreed with her also began tweeting, signing petitions, turning up to protest in fancy dress.  The campaign attracted national and international media attention which stretched far outside the social sphere.

Jane Austen tenner fancy dress

Katie McCracken as George Eliot, Caroline Criado-Perez as Rosalind Franklin (front), Vicki Beeching as Boudica and Lucy Holmes as Emily Wilding Davison at the Bank of England in July 2013. Photograph: Vicki Couchman/Rex

After a couple of months, the Bank of England announced that it had listened and changed its mind; Jane Austen it would be.

Tackling online abuse head on

It didn’t end there though.  For all the flag waving and congratulating, there was a darker side. The internet trolls came out in force.  Sad men and women in back bedrooms and basements across the land were given free reign and rape threats, death threats, physical threats poured in – up to 50 an hour at one point. Twitter were slow to respond, although the police were not. There was an organised boycott of Twitter on August 4th 2013, although many people (including Perez herself) refused to take part claiming, quite rightly, that the solution to online abuse was not women silencing themselves. Eventually Twitter sat up and took notice, and the ‘report abuse’ button was introduced, allowing swift action for offensive and frightening tweets.  Two people were later jailed for their actions. Since then, the pressure for social media platforms to take responsibility for the content which is shared on their network has intensified.

There are so many reasons why Caroline Criado-Perez remains my social media hero all these years later.

  1. She didn’t try to change the world all at once. She took one small issue, one tiny corner, and unravelled it.  She had a defined goal.  Not ‘dismantle the patriarchy’ but ‘put a woman on a tenner’ = something perfectly achievable which would bring thousands of people with her.
  2. She brought people together who would never otherwise have met, galvanised around a common cause and created a community spirit that could not have existed without Twitter. Supporters were so disparate, and so fragmented, that there was no way to galvanise that opinion by any other means.
  3. This was not about who shouted the loudest, or felt the most strongly, it was about uniting thousands of quiet voices around a single issue on which they were all agreed. A woman on a banknote might not have appeared in many people’s Top 10 Worries In Life but that didn’t matter.  All it took was to people to agree in 140 characters or less for change to take place.
  4. She would not be silenced. For all the bullying, threats, violence, she remained vocal and angry.  She forced Twitter to act and gave thousands, maybe millions of others, the courage to do the same.

So when you receive your first tenner, give a thought to why Jane is there. You may even like to join the #myfirsttenner movement donate it to a charity of your choice. I shall be donating mine, when it eventually turns up, to, a great charity which provides support to survivors of rape & sexual abuse.  Please feel free to do the same. Thank you Ma’am