Friday, 28 November 2014

Ferguson shooting reaction a study in the growing impact of social media

Sharing sites have done more than bring the fatal shooting in Ferguson to global attention - they also enabled the world to respond. Instantly.
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The National Guard patrols outside the Ferguson Police Dept. Photo AFP

The Ferguson shooting is a study, according to one observer, in "how social media make everything everyone's business, whether you want that or not".
Ferguson Democratic committeewoman Patricia Bynes said social media had helped local people share their fears and feelings. "It has kept the conversation going and it has helped inform people about the evidence and circumstances," she said.
Bynes also thinks social media helped export the conflict and meaning of Ferguson to the rest of the world. Ferguson became everybody's business.
On Tuesday night, Ferguson became more than a neighbourhood demonstration over a grand jury decision: It expanded into a national night of protest.
The public was ahead of the media from the outset. According to the Pew Research Centre, more than one million tweets with Ferguson hashtags were traded between August 9, when Michael Brown was killed, and CNN's first prime-time story on Ferguson, on August 12.
In the months since, Ferguson community leaders used social media to urge peace and organise crowd-minders.
"We've seen a lot of creativity in Ferguson, as with other social movement uses of social media," says Mark Lashley, assistant professor of communication at La Salle. "There's a mix of humour and seriousness, as you also see in protests in Hong Kong and Mexico."
According to tracker site Trendsmap, as of Monday morning, the hashtag Ferguson was buzzing all over the world, and from coast to coast in the US, with major spikes in Missouri, but also in Philadelphia and New York, and in Florida and California.
Bynes said that, thanks to social media, "people felt the shock we in this community felt, when they started seeing images of Michael Brown's body in the street uncovered, and it kept being retweeted and people kept seeing it. For others it was images of the mother and stepfather at the scene. They saw the agony happening right there. It's just been a storm ever since, as it should be".
On Tuesday, organised by local and national social media campaigns, largely peaceful protests were launched throughout the country.
In New York, Al Sharpton gave a speech in Harlem, and a large crowd marched from Union Square to Times Square then to Columbus Circle. In Chicago, hundreds marched from the police station through town.
It had its spectacular side. Brooklyn Bridge and the Triborough were briefly shut down in New York, as was Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. In Los Angeles, protesters shut Interstate 110.
And at the White House, Jennifer Bendery tweeted: "At least 200 people chanting 'How many black kids will you kill?'"
As all these things happened, people posted and tweeted. According to the tracking site Topsy, more than 3.2 million tweets using the hashtag Ferguson were posted between Monday and Tuesday afternoons.
Exactly how is this different from the civil rights demonstrations of the 1950s-1970s? Didn't people say, "The whole world is watching" back then? Yes, they did. But as many remarked on Tuesday, today it's in real time.
But the truly new, truly now thing is this: The world could respond. Instantly. And it did. A survey of hundreds of tweets from all over the world suggests that, to these tweeters, the no-indictment decision of the grand jury was yet another racist episode in American history. French justice minister Christine Taubira tweeted: "How old was Michael Brown? 18. TrayvonMartin? 17. TamirRice? 12. How old next? 12 months? 'Kill them before they grow' - Bob Marley".

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