Can we really understand the mysterious and random virality of social media? In an immense sea of content, how do we predict which trends will generate enough movement to form a wave?

Some trends can be picked ahead of their time, however the explosiveness of a random tweet, call-to-action or cat video is almost impossible to pin-point.

While trends will mostly fade back and be replaced with another, the occasional and rare trend can have legitimate and measurable impacts on society. A recent example of this is the anti-plastic straw movement that took off in 2018.

It started with a terribly sad and visceral video of a straw being removed from the nose of a sea turtle – it’s likely you’ve seen it yourself. The internet is filled with images and videos relating to the impacts of pollution and climate change on the wildlife, however this video happened to stick in the social media sphere long enough to cause a stir.

In the context of environmental upset and helplessness, the plastic straw became the epitome of our harmful single-use plastic culture. In the space of a couple of months, plastic straws were disappearing from venues and public discourse stigmatised their use. Massive chain restaurants such as McDonalds and Starbucks announced plans to ban the plastic straw, as well as some cities and countries introducing bans or taxes on similar single-use products.

While this is ultimately a positive movement with good intention, rejecting the use of plastic straws is an easy and short-term relief to an overwhelming frustration with single-use consumer culture. This year we’ve been seeing similar trends emerge with the rise of keep-cup popularity and debates over plastic bags in super markets.

These trends may be tokenistic, however, they are telling of widespread sentiment and signify the public’s desire to be heard and responded too.