Twitter and Social Justice

Posted: December 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Twitter and Facebook are two of the most popular social networking sites – they also happen to be powerful devices in social justice movements. This comes to mind because over the past two weeks, I have participated in four protests that demonstrate the outrage within my community over the unlawful deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I shared photos of these protests with hash-tags such as #EricGarner, #MikeBrown and #ShutItDown in between the links I have shared about my blog. Statistics show that black men are incarcerated at a disproportionately higher rate than any other type of male in the United States. This fact is merely one of the many examples of how black people and in particular, black men, are still discriminated against in this country. The problem is that the racism in this country is so deeply rooted within American culture that it is the norm and those of the majority are often not able to recognize it. Also,  I don’t think the justice system was designed to protect black people.

I found out about each of these protests via Facebook and Twitter. Facebook allowed me to invite other Facebook friends to join me and I could also see which of my Facebook friends were already going as well as how the turnout of each protest was going to be. Twitter came in handy as I showed up late to some of the protests, but people tend to live tweet so if the protest was moving around, I could follow the live tweets and located where the protestors were. Facebook and Twitter served as the bridge of communication for large groups of people that wished to come together for the same cause. This makes me think of the role social media played during the Arab Spring.

The protests were meant to address the fact that the judicial system is obviously flawed and so social media users took to Twitter and Facebook to express their grievances. Of course, the trolls were in full effect. When scrolling through my timeline, I saw many people making extremely negative comments in relation to the deaths of many of these unarmed black men. One comment I saw often that really made me angry stated something to the effect of, “if black people would stop breaking the law then police would stop shooting unarmed black men”. As if black people are the only ones that break the law. As if the men that have been shot had to have been committing a crime for police to have shot them. I know racism is an uncomfortable topic for some people to talk about, never mind the fact that others live and fight against it day in and day out. This brings me to Dorthy Kim’s blog, The Rules of Twitter. I found this post particularly interesting as she discusses the uses of Twitter in relation to ethics. Kim’s assessment of the uses of Twitter as a mediated public space, a mediated public protest space and a space for public community grief, are incredibly accurate.

On discussing Twitter as a digital mediated public space, Kim focuses on how some Twitter users feel that Twitter’s demise is due to its transformation from a “back porch”, to a bustling “Broadway”. The difference is that this back porch invokes the image of a predominantly white suburb and Broadway is like multiracial NYC. She defines its abandonment by some classes as “digital white flight”. Though I know what “white flight” and “white fear” mean, I was not aware of the fact that many middle class white male Twitter users are dissatisfied with how open it is to the masses. I feel that this is a subtle form of racism, so this could be an explanation as to why so many people feel the need to make nasty comments in relation to Ferguson and other similar events, although everyone in my community is hurting.

Kim also describes Twitter as a space for public community grief and I think Kim nails it when she states communities that are affected by tragedy should be the focus, and not individuals that choose to be allies. This is a recurring issue I am witnessing with the protests in relation to Ferguson. We have many white allies that support our cause for justice but white demonstrators tend to step in the spotlight. Oftentimes they will be the ones that provoke police officers and turn the protests into riots, but it is black people who will make the headlines for being “thugs”. The support is appreciated from our white counterparts, but they just need to be a little more mindful of why they are even there – to support the black community and to advocate for equality.

This reminds me of the promotional video we watched on Kony2012. As I watched the video, I recall seeing the majority of the American volunteers were white which was a huge contrast to the “poor” black African children. The image this video presented demonstrated “the white man’s burden” which I feel is a subtle form of white supremacy and self entitlement. This also makes me think of all of those movies Hollywood loves to make where the middle class white teachers go into the poor black community and save the “ghetto” children. Movies like Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. It may not be explicit, but these sorts of movies are quietly conveying the idea that white people are the saviors. We are all people and we just have different sin colors so I will never be able to fully comprehend why “the white man’s burden” seems to be legitimate in this country.

During slavery, black people were not considered people, but rather property. In 2014, we may no longer be considered property, but still we are not seen as equals. As long as the judicial system continues to disregard the value of black lives, the protests will continue and social media will continue to play its role in the organization and news coverage of these movements. Please understand I have no animosity towards white people whatsoever. I am discussing the way our society has been structured.

 

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Comments
  1. Until recently I was unaware of how powerful social media had become when used as a tool for social change. I felt somewhat indignant when I read about people being displeased with the openness of twitter – that is just another example that there is still a long way to go before we have a society that treats all its members as equals deserving of the same rights and privileges.

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