Brussels residents took a request for Twitter silence seriously this weekend with what became the #BrusselsLockdown viral hashtag. They responded to the request for “radio” silence brilliantly — with cats. Lots and lots of cats.
“Seriously” is probably not the best word to use, as many of the cat memes tweeted were really cute and funny.
— Lara Boudron (@bavetton) November 22, 2015
The terror alert in Belgium’s capital, Brussels, raised to a maximum level of 4/4 over the weekend, meaning the chance of a terrorist attack was serious and imminent. Police feared that the terrorists involved might be getting information about police operations from Twitter.
During the Paris terror attacks, people had been requested not to tweet any information about the Bataclan concert hall, but most continued anyway, putting local residents, visitors and the police operation at risk. They didn’t want a similar situation to happen in the Belgian city.
According to the Huffington Post, the whole thing started when Defense Minister Steven Vandeput sent the tweet: “Police are asking the public not to report their movements on social media, please support & rt.” And they listened, indeed, taking a totally different tack on the situation in the form of the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown.
Par sécurité, veuillez respecter le silence radio sur les médias sociaux concernant les opérations de police en cours à #Bruxelles. Merci
— Police Fédérale (@PolFed_presse) November 22, 2015
#BrusselsLockdown became the viral hashtag of the weekend as residents flooded the social media platform with cats. This most likely confused the terrorists somewhat, but the major advantage was that the various funny and cute cat memes lightened the gloomy mood in the locked down city.
— ElisabettaCanalis (@JustElisabetta) November 23, 2015
With the lock down in the Belgian city, naturally residents were anxious and frustrated, as authorities intensified their hunt for a key Paris terror attack suspect.
While they couldn’t send out tweets about the police operations they could see happening in their streets, they sent out pictures of cats instead.
— Christina Otero (@morozhnoye) November 22, 2015
Social media specialist, Mateusz Kukulka with the Twitter handle @Mateusz, tweeted he had seen more #lolcats in one hour than he’d seen in the rest of his life. Kukulka believes the first to have the idea about the cats was Hugo Janssen, a cameraman working for the Dutch television channel NOS.
Janssen, with the Twitter handle @Hoguhugo, tweeted: “Instead of tweets about police activity in Brussels, here’s a picture of our cat Mozart.”
Much humor and support followed Janssen’s post in the Twittersphere.
Others in the country thought it may have been the famed surrealist, Rene Magritte who started the trend when he posted a picture of two Star Wars stormtroopers riding hover scooters shaped like cats under his handle of @jaycelight. He might, indeed, have been the first to use the actual hashtag #BrusselsLockdown.
BREAKING NEWS : Belgium Police using the new 200mph Hovercat during terrorist operations #BrusselsLockdown pic.twitter.com/1LPrye29fJ — Jayce le Satirique (@jaycelight) November 22, 2015
The theme apparently then caught on with hundreds of residents posting images of cats, some looking a little suspicious, others looking a little scared and many just plain funny.
Support then caught on internationally for the #BrusselsLockdown hashtag, with many people joining the fray and afterwards, Belgian authorities thanked the Internet for their response.
— Fabien Amoretti (@FabienAmoretti) November 22, 2015
As reported by the Irish Times, Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office, said in a press conference that they had arrested 16 suspected terrorists in the weekend Brussels lockdown.
“The federal prosecutor and the police services must thank the press and social media users for taking into account the needs of the ongoing operation.”