More Than A Hashtag: The Rise of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

Kati Garrity , Staff Writer

In response to numerous violent police shootings targeting unarmed black citizens, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has sparked a national discussion about violence and race in the United States. Deen Freelon of American University, Charlton McIlwain of NYU Steinhardt and Meredith D. Clark of the University of North Texas have released a new study analyzing the role social media played in this movement for social justice.

McIlwain said the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the issues it addresses touched the professors both as African-American scholars and citizens.

“We all noticed that #BlackLivesMatter seemed to be having a significant and sustained impact in the fight for racial justice,” McIlwain said. “We wanted to better understand the movement for ourselves, but also help others — scholars, lay people, journalists and others better understand the digital aspects of the movement in particular. We felt that we were in a unique position to do so.”

Mcllwain also spoke about why the impact of #BlackLivesMatter has proven so successful compared to other hashtag trends.

“It gets utilized most often to speak to specific issues around race and criminal justice reform,” McIlwain said. “Other movements have used hashtags to draw attention to a broad range of issues. By being more targeted, the hashtag has been more effective in having some broader influence.”

Angel Parker, Black and Brown Coalition member and Black Student Union member said #BlackLivesMatter had a significant and sustained impact of #BlackLivesMatter in relation to similar movements.

“#BlackLivesMatter took social activism to a whole new level,” Parker said. “While Twitter activism existed to some extent before BLM, it was never this mobilizing. The hashtag has been sustaining the whole movement, especially in the early stages. With the click of a button, you could access live stream links, blog posts, articles, live tweeting of pivotal events of the movement.”

With an overwhelming escalation in the use of social media, it is difficult to stay informed without social media platforms. CAS junior Juan Manuel Calero Canaval said #BlackLivesMatter activists engage in similar tactics employed by previous social movements, just through different platforms and technologies.

“During the Civil Rights movement, those organizations relied on either phone calls or the mailing system to get their community mobilized,” Calero Canaval said. “We’ve just continued the same work into the modern era, using our generation’s tools. The question of activism is always informed by the past, looking to the future but centered on the immediate present, all of us together.”

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