Black Lives Matter: Effects of Social Movement on Social Media
By Nehilah Grand-Pierre
Volume 1 Issue 4
January 20, 2021
Image provided by The Pew Research Center
June 2nd, 2020 started as each day of quarantine did, resisting the urge to check Instagram first thing in the morning. Yet, this day was different. Unlike the previous days of quarantine posts, there were no whipped coffee or at-home workouts shared. There were only black squares, from classmates and friends to celebrities like Rihanna, and companies such as Apple and Netflix. According to Forbes, there were already 28 million black squares hashtagged “#blackouttuesday” by 11:14 am that morning. So, I posted mine, perhaps out of sheer obligation, but asking myself if that really helped.
What is Black Out Tuesday?
The reason behind this mass sharing of nothing for the day was because June 2nd marked one week since the passing of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man murdered by the white police officer, Derek Chauvin, captured on the viral video which shows Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Instagram was not the only platform on which users demonstrated a viral response to the tragedy. However, Researchers at Pew concluded that from May 26th to June 7th, #BlackLivesMatter was used 47.8 million times on Twitter alone.
“George Floyd's death was filmed, but he still died” states Sasha Smalls, 17-year-old high school senior, and President of the Black Student Union here at Valley Stream North High School. “The filming hasn’t changed anything other than the fact that more people can see it in real time.” Now, it just isn’t that the world is watching, but also reacting, as on May 28th 2020, 8.8 million Twitter users shared post tagged with #BlackLivesMatter while protests began to emerge across the country, and the globe.
With the advent of social media, movements like Black Lives Matter are able to gain traction fast, and with a larger audience than ever before. “The use of social media has evolved from simple conversations” says Tomi Akitunde, the head writer of MaterMae, an online resource with articles and aids for black mothers, which strides to educate others on the black community; the MaterMae Instagram page currently has over twelve thousand followers. “People are using it to be seen and say things they might’ve thought but never felt comfortable speaking out loud because they didn’t have people in their immediate community who felt like them or looked like the way they did. Now they have the whole world to listen to them”.
Instagram and Twitter offer the opportunity for more people to get involved, with news coming in faster than experienced by any previous generation. “These social issues have become a part of our day to day lives” states Akitunde. “Now everything is right there because of social media. Now celebrities are involved, it's in your face”. The video of George Floyd’s death perhaps was the most in-your-face example of police brutality, a key conflict that the Black Lives Matter movement seeks to eradicate. Though the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2016 when the murder of Treyvon Martin occurred, more people have been forced to join the conversation in 2020 because of how undeniably graphic George Floyd’s death video was, whether they agreed it was worth protesting against or not.
The Day Everything Changed
Though Floyd’s death did not mark the first instance of a black man dying at the hands of police officers, June 2nd marked the first day of the change in atmosphere that has been present on Instagram. #TheShowMustBeStopped, another hashtag shared on Black Out Tuesday, highlights that change needed to be brought to Instagram in order to provide space for black voices and stories, as the hashtag #Amplifyblackvoices went viral as well. This shift in attitude presented on Black Out Tuesday demonstrated lasting effects. Instagram users continue to use their accounts to share infographics, petitions, links and other helpful resources months after George Floyd’s death. Posts from pages like @soyouwanttotalkabout and @chnge appear on Instagram stories, as educating others has almost become the new trend of Instagram, and both pages now have a combined following of over 4.1 million. “If I want to know how I can help out or educate myself, all I have to do is click on an Instagram story” states Smalls. “I was scrolling through Instagram 3 days ago like a normal gen-z teen, and I followed @chnge, so it came up. I stopped and I read the story without having to get up and go watch the news. Just as though I was trying to check up on Kylie Jenner, I could read about something that could affect my community.”
There have been negative effects from the educational atmosphere that has seemed to present itself onto Instagram, however, despite its benefits of bringing important social issues to light. “People are finding a community, but at the same token, there’s this really polarized ‘I’m right you're wrong’ [and] no room for different viewpoints. Everything is very extreme because Black Lives Matter is a matter of life or death” states Akitunde. “Those infographics are really good at making people want to tag and share. The dangerous thing is when they are not sourced. I had to educate this woman I went to high school with once, because she shared something saying ‘Hey White People if you want to be a good ally stop saying black lives matter...what you need to say is this:...’. The source was an organization that doesn’t exist”.
Though non-black POC and white allies may have the best intentions, sharing information on any social media platform should be done with caution. “Being a good ally is not something you call yourself, someone in the community has to bestow it upon you and it's also something you constantly have to be working at” tells Akitunde. The importance of allyship, however, doesn’t negate the fact that there still needs to be space left for black voices, though speaking up might be frightening. “I would love to have more white people, and republicans join the BSU meetings” Smalls says. “When I upload something like ‘Black Lives Matter’ to the BSU Instagram, I don’t want to push out potential club members.”
Instagram has been a space where users can present the best of themselves (by literally posting their highlight reels), and display themselves through their pictures and captions. However, when the show must be stopped, social movements cause users to respond. Though selfies have been replaced by petitions, and VSCO links by , posting a black square is not enough to evoke change, and shouldn’t be thought of as such. “This kind of performative activism, where some people think that just posting a black screen with a hashtag is enough to evoke change, some of these people only do it because they don’t want to be hated on by those around them and then they go back to doing something that doesn’t help the movement” Smalls states. Therefore, it is not what the screen says that will push social change, but rather the character of that person behind the screen. Instagram may now provide the resources, but it is still the responsibility of the user to want to push the social movement beyond the walls of social media, and truly make the work happen, and the world a better place.