The power of hashtags

#blacklivesmatter, social media plays important roles in media coverage

The disputed death of Michael Brown being shot by Darren Wilson has generated a vigorous and heated debate about the relationship between law enforcement and African Americans, and police’s brutality nationwide. It is not a brand new topic in the U.S., but Ferguson changed the ways it is reported: social media — in the form of “#Blacklivesmatter” movement, plays a tremendous role.

#Blacklivesmatter movement is still on fire, even until the moment I type these words. For both protesters and twitter users, in all, social media has become a tool for them to express their anger and condemn for the controversy by broadcasting ongoing protests and debates under such an intensified media circumstance. Of which, the representitives of the movement — can be journalists, activitists, organizations and ordinary people who are just in great concern, have been using social media, in particular, Twitter, as a powerful tool to provoke the movement and appeal for justice.

#: A shortcut to get information

Looking back to August 9th and 10th last year, exactly one year after Ferguson, hundreds of people were using hashtags of “MN2Ferguson” and “Blacklivesmatter” while tweeting about the protests in St. Louis. Among those tweets, most of them are photos and videos of ongoing protests shot by individual person or organizations, explaining what was going on and asking for more people to join them:

No any traditional news outlets were tweeting anything using the hashtags. But hashtags do provide the readers an easy way to collect the news about the ongoing black protests. It is a form of digital media get involved into traditional journalistic reporting by tweeting photos and videos.

#: An emotional connection

Analyzing the movement based on its social media patterns particularly on August 9th and 10th, 2015, it can be attributed into a tight crowd pattern that these disscussions are highly interconnected by people of different races, careers across the nation. It is not a hobby group or any form of professional association, but people who do want to appeal justice for African Americans just automatically gathered together and react to each other by likes, comments, retweets and so on. Tweets of outstanding activists for #blacklivesmatter movement circulated and retweeted by thousands of users:

Why? Because those tweets are motionally connected to the readers. “Shifting the focus away from sadness changes a story’s emotional footprint, helping it travel further on social networks,” Alfred Hermida, from UBC Graduate School of Journalism, said. Even though it is hard to draw clear line what’s sadness, people tends to share tweets which get their reactions at the first glimpse, even though the tone sounds sad, if whatever has been passed out to them are postive and provocative, people would like to follow the pattern and share the tweets.

#: A method to stay tuned and keep going

It is definetly a form of journalism promoted by social media — not only activists are using the powerful hashtags for protesting and appealing, the journalists are actively using that as well every time when they are tweeting related coverages on Twitter. Taking Yamiche Alcindor, a journalist who covers social justice news from The New York Times as an example of those journalists who are dedicating in the movement.

Alcindor reporting from protests on scene in St.Louis

Being a black herself, Alcindor has been participating all the time in her work. Started from 2014, Alcindor has been working on covering protests for blacklivesmatter everywhere nationwide — controversy over African Americans and police brutality is not a new topic emerged after Ferguson, she knows that and she dedicates working in this field. Other than covering protests about African Americans fighting for justice, she also writes news pieces about the movement. The readers would like to retweet and response to tweets from journalists because of their professionalism and authority:

Alcindor tweets out her article about celebs’s link to #Blacklivesmatter movement
Not a new controversy, Alcindor has been covering it from the very begining

The movement can’t only be the topic of the moment and then disappeared into obscurity: so many journalists are covering the campaign and so many activists are appealing for the whole group time by time, people have been greatly influenced by what they are updating. One thing really differs from protests years ago when people were still not familiar with social media is that now, Twitter has become an efficient and influential way of gathering information. A small “#” means everything: it provides a direct way of news and information collection about certain topic for the journalists and people who are in great concern. Go beyond that, while reading a list of tweets mentioned “#blacklivesmatter”, the readers get tight emotional connections of themselves and the movement — it is a way to appeal people to support and commit . If there is no social media playing in this game, it would be much less people concerning and knowing how serious and urgent the situation is for fighting for social justice for African Americans and pursuing what’s so-called “equality”.

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