In the age of online journalism I understand the importance of social media’s accessibility. Social media allows for anyone’s message to reach a mass audience, even if the creator previously lacked a substantial platform. This reinstates journalism’s roots of acting as an outlet for the standard citizen, especially in instances of being critical of power.
Critical of power would be an understatement of American social media aligning with the country’s current unrest. On May 25, a video of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, which led to his death became viral. The gruesome nine minute video not only led to countrywide outrage, but also protests against police brutality of African Americans. Protests are continuing throughout all 50 states, with even foreign countries holding protests in major areas, according to USA Today.
With the protests overwhelming presence, it’d be difficult for any online discourse to remain silent on the matter. Social media platforms have become swarmed with posts regarding the protests ranging from live footage of multiple marches, to links for fundraisers to help arrested protestors. Often times posts become organized by sub-topics, such as “#BlackLivesMatter” and “#GeorgeFloyd.” Even major corporations like Disney, are posting sympathetic messages in respect to Floyd. Disney’s “#BlackLivesMatter” tweet posted on May 31 included the statement: “We stand with our fellow Black employees, storytellers, creators and the entire Black community.”
In the “anti-oppressive-power” vein of protests, many corporate posts have become bombarded with accounts questioning the corporation’s true intentions. Disney’s tweet even led to @TsarOxMan responding with examples of the franchise’s mistreatment of African Americans. “Did you stand by them when you removed @JohnBoyega from promotions in China?” @TsarOxMan said.
Incidentally, black actor John Boyega received praise this week for not only his online statements, but also for emotionally speaking at a London protest. The contrasting reactions to Boyega and Disney’s similar messages serve as examples for social media’s patrolling of online innocence. As someone who is relatively updated on social media trends, I’ve never seen so many posts dedicated to exposing others racist actions in hopes of them losing opportunities.
These posts remain tame in comparison to media users’ criticism of police and political leaders. In fact, online patrolling became harsh enough to have President Donald Trump utilizing executive orders. After Trump’s tweet received a fact check disclaimer due to false information, Trump intends to, “curtail the legal protections that shield social media companies from liability for what gets posted on their platforms,” according to The New York Times. Twitter’s disclaimer reflects that they reside within the freedom of users, as the website’s content continues to be as bold as the physical protests.
So how does this contrast to more monitored sources? In the past week I’ve been paying more attention to televised news. Broadcasts have primarily displayed on-site footage alongside with political leaders only available to those with aforementioned platforms. However, I find the presentation of content rather simplified with additional efforts to humanize the police. My fear in this lies with how in 2018, 50 percent of American adults relied on television for news, according to Pew Research Center. These individuals are exposed to a very limited presentation of the protests, which leads to uninformed judgements.
Gruesome footage unfit for television is currently trending online, primarily featuring police brutality. These videos understandably gained attention rather quickly with a brutality compilation connected to a Trump tweet receiving 35.4 thousand likes.
So has this persistence upheld results? Chauvin’s now been charged with second-degree murder, with three other officers involved filed with arrest warrants, according to BBC News. Also, an independent autopsy for Floyd disputed previous claims of his death not relating to suffocation, according to CNN. In my opinion there would likely be even less closure for Floyd without the persistent offline and online protests.
I am ecstatic to see so many people using their voice, especially to create beneficial changes for others. My hope is that the unity and confidence to speak out remains well beyond the physical protests. Becoming hesitant to question injustices will only allow for past efforts to become useless. In times like these it’s important to remember these words from civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”