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​How Sydney and Australia Reacted to the Cafe Hostage Crisis Online

The gunman who seized a cafe in downtown Sydney has reportedly been killed by police, but not before two hostages were killed (and four wounded). Here's how it played out online.
Photo via Flickr user Cle0patra

Photo via Flickr user Cle0p​atra

It started when a man with a gun entered Lindt Chocolate Café in downtown Sydney. ​It ended with the cops storming the place, leading to a shootout that left two hostages and the gunman dead. In between was a long night of tension that had the whole country abuzz online.

It was a tragedy for the victims and their families. It also ended up being a PR disaster for Uber. The ridesharing company has had a presence in Sydney since 2012, and clearly it doesn't quite have things figured out here yet. In New York, Uber has had a policy of c​apping prices during emergencies since July—but last night, the Sydney Uber Twitter account tried to make it seem as though an automated surge pric​ing policy—where rates increase during "the busiest times"—was an act of charity.


We are all concerned with events in CBD. Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.

— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney)December 15, 2014

Less than an hour later, amid a social media backlash, the company reversed its stance and decided the situation might warrant an actual act of charity. ​(Uber did not immediately respond to VICE's request for comment.)

Uber Sydney trips from CBD will be free for riders. Higher rates are still in place to encourage drivers to get into the CBD.

— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney)December 15, 2014

At least two news organizations came under fire for their responses to the crisis as well. ​Pedestrian Daily, a youth-oriented online news site, used a silly photo of a what appeared to be a Lindt chocolate bunny as their banner image for coverage of the situation. Readers reacted with distaste, naturally, and online media and marketing site Mumbrella called attention to the tone-deaf p​icture. The site subsequently changed the photo to one of the scene in Martin Place and apologized for the lapse in judgment.

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph, a local tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, released a 2 PM edition specifically to cover the hostage crisis.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph has printed a special 2pm edition -

— Tom Steinfort (@tomsteinfort)December 15, 2014

The paper was promptly lambasted for the link to the Islamic State when no such association was established and the authorities were purposely avoiding that sort of innuendo. The outlet was further criticized for speculating about the number of hostages.


On the ground outside the café, things were apparently fairly quiet. Some people on the scene took selfies and some drank beers—and others said that it wasn't appropriate to be doing either. ​

People taking selfies at — Kety Shapazian (@KetyBrazil)December 15, 2014

Some people are taking selfies and others are drinking beer in Martin Place as the

— Juliette Saly (@julesaly)

December 15, 2014

Most of these responses can be attributed to confusion or a lack of consideration. But for a few, the siege inspired actual malice.

Extremist nationalist groups such as the Australian Defence League posted updates and comments like this one on Facebook: " Here it is folks, homegrown islamic terrorism in our backyard, courtesy of successive australian governments and their brainwashed voters."

Some even showed up to the police barricade to shriek racist slurs.


— Kiera (@KieraGorden)

December 15, 2014

In reaction to that malice, and in anticipation of possible persecution, Sydney Muslim communities condemned the actions of the gunman and  offered whatever help th​ey could. Forty Muslim groups said in a joint statement, "We reject any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being or to instill fear and terror into their hearts." Religious leaders from around the nation uni​ted in prayer.

A Sydney commuter, Rachael Jacobs, apparently saw a woman silently taking off her hijab and told her, "Put it back on. I'll walk with you." Rachael then posted a series of Facebook statuses describing the event.


Be more like this.

— GenErik (@ErikVeland)

December 15, 2014

Then Twitter user Sir Tessa offered a similar service and suggested a hashtag for those who wanted to do the same: #illridewithyou.

If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don't feel safe alone: I'll ride with you. @ me for schedule.

— Sir Tessa (@sirtessa)December 15, 2014

Maybe start a hashtag? What's in

— Sir Tessa (@sirtessa)

December 15, 2014

By 2:15 AM local time, ​police had stormed the cafe. The hostage situation is over, though #illridewithyou tweets ​are still circulating—they've become more about religious tolerance in a broad sense. A trending topic might not be much of a silver lining, but at least some people are thinking positive thoughts in the wake of all this.