Written by Claudia Ugbana // Illustrated by Asha McClendon
In the last seven years, BLM has heightened its impact by harnessing the power of social media.
This year has been one for the books, as a worldwide population of individuals can attest. While the world was rocked by a global pandemic and a wave of other catastrophic events, the reemergence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has undoubtedly become one of the largest initiatives to impact U.S. history.
On May 25, the video of a police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, which led to his death, circulated the internet and caused a massive nationwide outrage. Millions of Americans (and allies from other countries) gathered in mass, protesting the violence and systemic racism against Black people in the U.S.
The core of the Black Lives Matter conversation originated in and surged through social media, an undeniable tool that has aided and expanded the reach of the movement. Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and a variety of other smaller social media platforms have become the primary resources for anti-racism activism and general information on the movement and its origin.
The famous slogan first popped up in a 2013 Facebook post following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a police officer who shot and killed 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin. The severity of that event was no different from the unjust killing of George Floyd, however, its reception was entirely different. The phrase, which then turned into a prominent hashtag, was largely used after the death of Martin, but mostly faced criticism and died off social media platforms as the world seemingly moved on. Now, seven years later, Black Lives Matter has become a force that shows no signs of dying down.
The creation and evolution of the movement
In 2013, three radical Black organizers founded a movement and organization that has influenced how Black Americans are perceived in the U.S. today. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi created a Black-centered movement in response to the acquittal of Martin’s murderer; and now the project is a member-led organization of more than 40 chapters across the globe. The official website for Black Lives Matter describes the term as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” With its creation, the three women sought to affirm Black individuals that they are an important part of society and shall continue to uplift each other and make vital contributions to society. The majority of the growth of the movement is attributed to the Ferguson and St. Louis community, who bravely supported the movement in 2014 after another senseless killing of an unarmed young Black man, Mike Brown. Brown’s murder created an uproar of protests similar to the ones witnessed this year.
The work done in Ferguson was only the beginning. It became evident that the movement needed to become more globalized to reach more Black people across the country. This is where the impact of social media came into play, catapulting the Black Lives Matter movement into an enormous network.
"The phrase, which then turned into a prominent hashtag, was largely used after the death of Martin, but mostly faced criticism and died off social media platforms as the world seemingly moved on. Now, seven years later, Black Lives Matter has become a force that shows no signs of dying down."
The undeniable impact of social media
A prominent aspect of social media is its availability to millions of people across the world. Modern day civil rights activists have the advantages that activists of the 1960s and 1970s did not have — they can rely on social media to provide information on protests, rapidly disperse videos of violent arrests, issue funds for bail-outs, and connect with other organizations that aid Black individuals.
According to data collected by the Social Media Analytics Center at the University of Connecticut, the movement saw the most tremendous growth in a 30-day span after Floyd’s death with the slogan mentioned a total of 80 million times across Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and blogs. Mentions of the slogan didn’t just dominate social media. The protests that followed were reported to be the most searched topic in the U.S. Google search history.
Social media continued to aid the movement when other trends made an appearance. In June, #BlackOutTuesday emerged on Instagram. Influencers, brands and bloggers all posted black boxes to their Instagram pages in support of the movement. The idea behind this new movement was to fall silent on social media platforms in order to amplify the effect of #BlackLivesMatter. From this, we also saw other initiatives arise such as #TheShowMustBePaused and #SayTheirNames.
While mentions continued to skyrocket, the largest impact social media had was the direct aid to Black individuals. Social media influencers rallied behind Black-owned businesses and urged people to purchase from these brands. The spending power of Black consumers grew as they supported Black-owned businesses and initiatives that didn’t have much prominence prior to the movement. Celebrities also participated in this movement by exclusively purchasing from these brands and advertising their products on social media platforms at no cost.
What happens next?
It’s safe to say it would be inherently impossible to predict the future of the Black Lives Matter movement, as it would be impossible to predict the future of something as critical as a civil rights movement. Some people have begun speculating that talk of the movement has already begun to die down and commitment to the cause has shifted to other focal points, such as the upcoming Presidential election.
The protests were a massive part of the movement that surged over the past few months, with thousands of people marching in solidarity with Black individuals across the nation. The numbers have since depleted, with a much lower number of people who are still protesting. The greatest fear for most people lies in the notion that the system will continue to fail Black individuals, and the progress gained by hard work over the last several years will be boiled down to something as simplistic as a social media trend.