Photo Credit: pexel
Without a doubt, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook played a major role in galvanizing protesters around the nation in the aftermath of the shockingly brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Live mobile phone video coverage of the murder – vividly portraying a group of cops watching as a fellow cop stepped on another man’s neck for nearly 9 minutes – instantly began to go viral not just nationwide, but also worldwide. And, as it did so, it brought awareness to an issue that has been simmering since the Ferguson protests back in 2016. All it needed was a single spark to light a huge fire, and that’s exactly what happened once people began sharing images, comments and responses to the tragic murder.
“Social media is the new body cam”
Now that mobile phones are ubiquitous, it also means that it’s a lot easier to bring visual proof of wrongdoing and criminality out into the open. Even when police officers use body cams, there’s no guarantee that all video footage will be made public, and especially not in a timely fashion. But when everyday citizens turn into mobile phone-wielding journalists, it’s possible to upload raw, unedited video footage nearly instantaneously. Once images and video clips have been shared widely across social media, there’s no way to spin a narrative of what actually happened.
As they say, “seeing is believing,” and once you’ve seen a murder take place in broad daylight, there’s no unseeing it. In the same way, social media has galvanized public support after incidents in places like Buffalo and Atlanta. With a single cell phone image, it’s possible to document police brutality.
Organizing Black Lives Matter protests nationwide
The initial protests and demonstrations took place in Minneapolis, the scene of the original murder. But as social media sharing of the grisly incident went viral, protests, demonstrations (and, yes, riots) soon went nationwide. Every day, it seemed, there were fresh images of both peaceful protests and anarchic riots in places like New York and Philadelphia.
Social media became a sort of “connecting glue,” enabling organizers and protesters to assemble in large numbers and act together as one crowd. In many ways, it felt like the “Arab Spring” had arrived in America, only this time it was African-Americans on the streets of America’s biggest cities, all protesting decades of injustice and racial discrimination.
Creating new online communities of support
And, of course, social media has also made it possible for anyone to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and better treatment of their African-American colleagues, friends and family members. This included a few of the easiest ways to show solidarity – such as changing avatar pictures, using certain hashtags and participating in “black out” days on social media.
And, as might be expected, celebrities also jumped into the game, pledging to cover the legal costs of protesters and organizers. For example, Colin Kaepernick, perhaps the single most recognizable celebrity championing the Black Lives Matter movement, has publicized a legal defense fund for those detained by the police. And politicians have not let this opportunity escape, either, adopting many of the signs and symbols of the protesters as their own.
So where does it all go from here?
In a perfect world, this massive outpouring of support for Black Lives Matter via social media would lead to immediate changes. But life is more complex than that. Raw, emotional responses – such as demanding efforts to “defund the police” – probably won’t lead to a dramatic transformation of a system that has been in place. Setting up “autonomous zones” in places like Seattle is also probably too far left even for many radical leftists. And getting people to change what’s going inside their heads (in terms of biases and prejudices) is a lot harder than convincing someone to send out a brief tweet or Facebook update as a token show of support. And without that kind of fundamental change, it’s hard to reverse decades of discrimination, bias and prejudice.
One thing is clear, though, social media now provides a very powerful platform for everyday people to document, discuss and analyze what is actually happening in society. It’s one thing to hear about things taking place second-hand or third-hand (or, even worse, through the prism of the mainstream media), but it’s another thing entirely to see raw, first-hand footage of what’s happening in the streets in near real-time.