Social Media’s Role In The Black Lives Matter Movement

In 2022, we take for granted that the Black Lives Matter movement is part of the fabric of our social and political culture. And while the movement is still evolving, it is worthwhile now and then to think back on how it started, and how activism and social media led us to where we are today.

For those who may not have considered the specific history in a while, we’ll remind you that the Black Lives Matter movement actually began in 2013, primarily as a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter gained some traction around that time, but truly blew up in 2014 after the subsequent killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, respectively. As word got out and social media helped spread the movement, more and more people learned about it. The creators of the hashtag and subsequent movement –– Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi –– have since expanded their efforts across the nation, creating BLM chapters and incorporating activism into political efforts.

While all of this represented progress for the movement, BLM was at times framed improperly and taken advantage of on social media, too. Unfortunately, as we’ve all learned over the years, social media-driven movements can occasionally miss the point. And BLM became so widespread on social that, inevitably, we saw entire groups of users either mistakenly or intentionally spreading the wrong ideas about it.

How can social media play a constructive role in BLM moving forward?

One could make the case that in the age of social media, the best way forward for any movement is to hone messaging. While some of the aforementioned issues of mischaracterization and misrepresentation will remain inevitable, a clear, direct, and actionable messaging campaign will ultimately have a better chance of establishing positive change –– in this case by swaying individuals, rallying communities, and garnering political support simultaneously.

A first step that should be considered by movement leaders and aspiring BLM activists alike is to explore opportunities to study communication and learn about effective messaging. While it tends to be the case everyone on social media (us included!) feels like they can communicate effectively, taking the time to study digital writing and campaign management will lend BLM supporters or activists the skills needed to hone messaging strategies more clearly. Some may even consider going a step further and explore courses in journalism or social media marketing for the same reasons. In short, no matter how well you may message as an individual, no amount of communication expertise is too much for a successful movement.

There is also an argument to be made, meanwhile, that social media should play a role in propelling actionable priorities for the Black community. While the BLM movement is primarily about justice, for instance, messaging can also spread to issues like improving education for kids in the Black community –– not a primary BLM cause, but one that will absolutely have long-term ramifications on the influence and power of Black communities. This is merely one example, but it speaks to how focused messaging toward specific priorities has the potential to be more effective than vague and occasionally haphazard hashtag usage. Though this is not to say that the power of the spontaneous and widespread emergence of BLM messaging is not needed as well.

To that last point, it is also of course important to maintain constant vigilance with regard to messaging and awareness surrounding injustice. As powerful as the movement has been to date, we know all too well that Black communities still face injustice on a daily basis, and we see all too often that when issues of injustice are not amplified, the hope of change dims. So, while social media can play new roles moving forward –– with honed, expert messaging to sway communities and politicians, and with more focus on actionable priorities for long-term effect –– it must continue to be used to shine a light on racial injustice, above all else.

Like most any major movement for social change throughout history, the Black Lives Matter movement has been at once powerful and imperfect. Some of the imperfections –– most notably the deliberate hijacking of messages and mischaracterization of goals by opposing forces –– likely cannot be helped. But the more BLM activists consider social media strategies and priorities, the more effective the movement can be moving forward.


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