Monica Anderson and Paul Hitlin, in their article “Social Media Conversations About Race,” provide an overview of a Pew Research Center survey that examined how social media users see, share and discuss race, as well as the rise of hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter.
Anderson and Hitlin point out that Black social media users are almost twice as likely as whites to encounter posts about race relations on networking websites. The survey also traces the use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, from its inception in mid-2013 to the major events that sparked its proliferation. The hashtag was used 189,210 times on December 4th, 2014 after a New York grand jury decided not to indict police officers in the death of Eric Garner, 127,000 times on October 13th, 2015 after Senator Bernie Sanders defended the Black Lives Matter movement and 120,067 times on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death.
Ultimately, Anderson and Hitlin’s article fundamentally altered my understanding of Twitter. On the social media platform’s 10th anniversary, Twitter released a list of its 10 most influential hashtags. That most of them were related to social causes speaks to the website’s wide appeal. Never was the idea of hashtags being a crowdsourcing model more clear to me than now.
A Pew Research Center survey found that Black social media users are almost twice as likely as whites to encounter posts about race relations on social media websites.
I used to associate crowdsourcing with initiatives like GoFundMe, MetaData Games and GNU/Linux. But seeing the sheer volume of individuals turning to Twitter to discuss, reflect and synthesize political ideas, I have come to see it as more than just a networking website where users compete for followers. It seems like Twitter has become the modern-day equivalent of a Canvas discussion board for a college class to reflect on readings, or a HASTAC board for digital humanists to share and collaborate on projects.
Twitter involves the community at large, removing the barriers required to gain entry. Anyone can join the conversation. I am eager to see what role Twitter and other platforms like it such as DemocracyOS – an online space for debating and voting on political proposals – will play in shaping the future of democracy.
1. Anderson, Monica, and Paul Hitlin. "Social Media Conversations About Race." Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. N.p., 15 Aug. 2016. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
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