When Black Victims Become Trending Hashtags
By some measures, every 28 hours, a black man is killed in America.
This statistic rang true as I turned on my computer Saturday evening, scrolled through my Twitter feed, and saw #Ferguson, #MikeBrown, and other references to a police shooting where an unarmed teenager was killed in suburban St. Louis. I opened another browser window to search, and my worst fears were confirmed: another black teenager lost his life as a result of racial profiling. Another son, another brother, another friend lost due to police violence.
#MikeBrown is the latest victim of racial profiling in America. Days before him, there was #JohnCrawford, and before Crawford, there was #EricGarner, #RenishaMcBride, #JordanDavis, #TrayvonMartin, and #OscarGrant. In 2012 alone, at least 313 men died as a result of the extreme targeting. Lynching may be outlawed, but Jim Crow still exists.
Decades ago, or even years ago, names like #MikeBrown would have been buried in news briefs and death notices, if even mentioned at all. But as the result of Twitter, blacks have been able to create awareness, raise support and push the conversation forward around the issues that most resonate with our experience.
In fact, blacks use Twitter at rates higher than that of whites. This is the case because Twitter, more than any other social media platform, has given us the power to challenge the behavior of law enforcement and self-appointed vigilantes in a way that traditional forms of media do not.
Such was the case following #MikeBrown’s death. After the media posted a photo that showed Brown in a negative light, black twitter users started the hashtag, #Iftheygunnedmedown. The tweets have grown into a campaign, with users sharing pairs of photos of themselves and questioning the way that people of color are often vilified in the news.
But while these conversations trend and develop among blacks, others are often oblivious to the news or what the trending hashtags mean. It’s a result of the “filter bubble,” our tendency to isolate ourselves online from views that oppose our own. On social media, we tend to follow people who are like us – people who look like us, think like us, and believe like us.
That’s why even well-connected Internet users can miss out on a whole dimension of the news, while certain groups continue to discuss issues among themselves. The conversations among people of color can be so far removed from the overall Twitter chatter that the term #BlackTwitter emerged to describe the “cultural force” of young blacks online.
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