Blacks lead social justice charge on social media

JAZELLE HUNT | 8/25/2014, 11:15 a.m.
What do “Bring Back Our Girls,” “Justice for Trayvon” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” have in common? They’re all rallying ...
Snapshot image of the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” St. Louis social justice campaign on Facebook. The Dallas Examiner snapshot

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – What do “Bring Back Our Girls,” “Justice for Trayvon” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” have in common? They’re all rallying cries that began on social media. And when big things happen through social media, Black people usually lead the charge.

Internet activism, also called “hashtag activism,” is an emerging side effect of the digital age, as ordinary people take to social media websites to organize and agitate. Today, Black people use sites such as Twitter and Facebook at higher rates than other groups. Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 29 percent of all Black Americans who are online use Twitter, and 76 percent use Facebook, compared to 16 percent and 71 percent of Whites, respectively.

On Twitter, the trend has led to the term “Black Twitter,” in which a conversation among African American users can and often does become the dominant conversation on the site.

And Black people are using this ability to dominate and drive awareness to racial issues and spur action.

Twitter is a website that allows users all over the world to send and respond to public messages, or Tweets, in real time. Users can also create and use hashtags, denoted by the pound sign (“#”). Hashtags communicate an idea, and allow Tweets to be grouped together, creating a global, real-time public conversation around that idea.

“Twitter is the Internet’s answer to the telephone tree,” said Mikki Kendall, who uses Twitter to chat with the more than 23,500 “followers” who opt to include her Tweets in their tailored stream of conversations. She Tweets under the username @Karnythia; on Twitter, usernames are called “handles.”

Almost exactly a year ago, Kendall created the hashtag, #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen to highlight White feminists’ lack of support for women of color. The hashtag drew millions of Tweets on the topic and generated feminist forums and events around the country on the topic. Media outlets such as NPR, Huffington Post, The Root, even The Guardian and Al Jazeera, penned articles on Kendall’s hashtag and the questions it raised. Twitter users still use and discuss it today.

“I’ve since heard from a lot of people about how educational that [hash]tag was, and how it informed some people’s work.” Kendall said. “You look on Twitter and see people in Egypt and Palestine explaining to people in Ferguson how to handle tear gas and dog bites. Even as police push media out – you can push media out but can’t push out the people who live there and have a smart phone.”

In 2012, Black Twitter produced #JusticeforTrayvon to discuss and spotlight the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the lack of law enforcement attention on his assailant, George Zimmerman. The hashtag grew into an online petition calling for Zimmerman’s arrest, then spilled into the real world to become the rallying cry. The mobilization around #JusticeforTrayvon eventually led to Zimmerman’s arrest, two months after the shooting.

In the days following Zimmerman’s acquittal, Black Twitter got wind of the news that Juror B37 had secured a literary agent and book deal for her involvement with the trial. Genie Lauren, Twitter handle @MoreAndAgain, found the agent’s professional contact information online and Tweeted it to her estimated 3,000 followers.