From the moment African Americans arrived in the United States as slaves, their journey has been one of resilience, suffering and an ongoing pursuit for fully formed citizenry. Whilst the declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863 by Abraham Lincoln was justifiably seen as a milestone moment, it’s worth noting that African Americans have not rested on their laurels. They’ve organised, campaigned and fought ceaselessly for rights and justice. The fight carries on today although the nature of it is changing with the use of new tools and approaches.
Society as we know it, is currently in the middle of a transformation that could be called a new age of technology. This new age has transformed businesses and other sectors as well as revolutionising social connections and interactions. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram have changed the way that people across the world interact with the younger demographics seizing and using these tools in new and exciting ways. In particular, the focus on online social connections and engagement has proven to be a catalyst for reinvigorating the push for equality and justice. It makes sense that social and political advocacy particularly on the racial justice front would also make use these tools.
There have been several developments in the use social media platforms for social and political advocacy, with the rise and influence of Black Twitter serving has a notable example. This cohort of African American super Twitter users have directed their power to start conversations about many issues including the extra-judicial killings by American police. Other platforms have also been used for engagement and connection with Tumblr serving as a platform for social commentators to delve into issues of intersectional feminism, racism and existing power structures. Despite having less prominence than Black Twitter, Black Tumblr has also been a connecting space for online savvy, socially aware African American focused presence. Both of these platforms and to a lesser extent others like Instagram and Snapchat have re-energised the civil rights movement for a younger audience.
The power of the aforementioned platforms in the civil rights movement has finally started to be noticed by the wider media and American society. In particular, with the filming and distribution of footage of extra-judicial killings of African American citizens by the police who are supposed to protect and serve them. The numerous films that have emerged over the past five or so years have become documentary evidence of the injustices that African Americans have been talking about for decades on end and can no longer be ignored by wider society. Social media platforms are being used as a fulcrum for discourse and organizing with the most spectacular example being the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which had its beginnings with a #hashtag and has moved from online communities into the mainstream media world.
Although many social media platforms have stated goals of connecting people, the advocacy developments are challenging and some respond better than others. Twitter for all its faults as an echo chamber and troll megaphone has been responsive to the social advocacy that takes place on its platform. Facebook on the other hand has been more hesitant not wanting to jeopardise its wide user base. It will be interesting to see how the social media companies marry the original intent of their companies with the unintended use of their platforms for advocacy.