The Hashtag That Turned Into a Movement
In response to police brutality in the United States, the Black Lives Matter Movement continues to grow and spark change using social media as their most powerful tool.
The Black Lives Matter Movement began on social media in 2013 using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. It was created to increase awareness of racial issues in America after the acquittal of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in the shooting of Black teen Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman successfully argued self-defense, even though Martin was unarmed.
The movement became more distinguished and popularized after the deaths of unarmed Black men Eric Garner and Michael Brown, who were both unarmed and killed by police officers.
“I dare to say the Black Lives Matter Movement was 100 percent catapulted by social media because it used an awareness tactic,” said Angela Sharkey, social media manager at Brandstar. “If you think about what happened, what triggered this movement, was that someone was able to capture this incident that had taken place in the streets and put it on social media, I think that if that does not say it is attributed to social media, then I do not know what does.”
After the death of George Floyd, the video of his death while being arrested went viral, which sparked conversation and propelled change. Bystanders shared it on multiple platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to spread awareness of police brutality. In return, this sparked many protests and even more social media posts, demanding the now-former officers be charged with his death.
“I think what is important for a movement to take place on social media is the virality of a video or an image, something powerful enough to show to cause ignition in the people and for them to feel like they need to take action,” said Sharkey. “I think that is what the key to a movement and campaign on social media is.”
In a poll conducted by Pew Research, the Black Lives Matter hashtag was used about 47.8 million times on Twitter following the death of George Floyd, breaking the record of the highest number of times the hashtag has been used.
Earlier this year, the Blackout Tuesday hashtag was created for social media users to show their stand with the Black Lives Matter Movement, not only using the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday but posting a black square as well.
“Blackout Tuesday was huge,” said Sharkey. “That was the first time, at least in my professional seven years of experience in social media that I have seen a shutdown of the world as we knew it in social media, for people to really stop and understand that this is a much bigger thing than people want to give credit.”
Many celebrities and social media influencers have shown their stance to the movement by sharing informational posts with hashtags. Others have turned their social media platforms over to a Black Lives Matter leader for a day to share important and useful information. Black Lives Matter provides access to many followers and audiences, which has also contributed to its growth.
Since the death of George Floyd and Blackout Tuesday, social media users continue to use their platforms to share their voice on racial injustices in America in hopes to spark and continue change. Many are currently taking to social media to fight for justice for Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by white officers while asleep.
Black Lives Matter has been a movement created solely from social media. It is setting a strong foundation for change in Black communities and establishing a foundation for other minorities in America to speak up in the future.