OPINION: The power of social media within the Black Lives Matter Movement


Denaya Lewis

Our activism needs to adapt to the way we communicate in our everyday lives. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

“Black Lives Matter” is a slogan that has been chanted since the 2013 shooting of Trayvon Martin. This was one of the first incidents of police brutality to go viral on the internet, and it started a network of grassroots movements in Florida which quickly spread across the country. Since then, with the help of the internet, Black death at the hands of police has risen to the forefront of all major news outlets.

The discussion about the criminalization of Black life has been trending since the beginning of quarantine, with the death of George Floyd sparking international protests. Quickly, social media users called for the imprisonment of the officers who murdered him, and the defunding and rehabilitation of the police force.

The video started a conversation about the violence the police are allowed to inflict, and the methods of resistance that are deemed acceptable by society. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark, Philando Castile and countless others were killed by police officers while not resisting, or in Taylor’s case, while they were sleeping. Their names became hashtags as social media users called for their killers to be arrested and charged.

Although these are traumatic things to watch, I think it is important to see them. If you can get on any social platform and not see petitions, protests and everyday people fighting to dismantle the unjust, oppressive social norms, you are following the wrong people. Throughout every platform, there is a way to speak out, donate or help.

On Instagram, a local account called @whatyouthcando, is advocating for student voices to be heard. They have created rallies for Omaha Public Schools (OPS) students and Omaha youth, and strongly advocated for OPS’ fully online school year. They also advocated for mask usage, voter registration and the removal of armed officers from school hallways.

On Twitter, trending hashtags such as #ACAB, #defundthepolice, #JusticeforJamesScurlock and more were used to educate the general public of the reasons behind the massive protests and the 400 years of disparities that lead up to such a violent outburst.

Social media is the most effective tool in this new wave of the civil rights movement, as this is the way we communicate now. The average college student spends 8-10 hours a day on social media according to the US National Library of Medicine. Had it not been for these videos, the conversations around police brutality would still be minimal.

Although there is a significant distrust when it comes to learning from social media because a lot of claims aren’t fact checked, a lot of claims happen to be true anecdotal evidence. For example, a lot of tweets surrounding the Omaha protests following the death of James Scurlock were deemed not true, although they were coming from people who were physically at the protests, and who even posted pictures and videos.

Social media calls for accountability from peers to speak up, puts pressure on politicians and brings to light new perspectives. It has also caused companies and brands to speak out and take a stand against police brutality.

Not only that, but social media has opened up conversations around the radical history of America that was swept under the rug and hidden in textbooks. I also feel that in the coming years, social media will be used as a primary source archive to teach future generations. We have digital recordings from all over the country documenting what has happened and how people reacted.

The overwhelming response to death is a call for political change. While a lot of the change has not happened yet, I think reaching younger millennials and Gen Z through social media is powerful because we refuse to stand silently by.

Although the social media backlash has not caused much political change, I think public pressure will eventually. The conversation around the criminalization of Black and brown people is becoming more and more mainstream. Education is the first part of change because the more we attempt to understand the more we will grow together.