WASHINGTON D.C. — Black Lives Matter – these three words have defined protests about police brutality for years.
The hashtag first appeared online in July 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s shooting death.
Now 10 years later, it’s been tweeted more than 44 million times.
“The Black Lives Matter hashtag is really unique for its staying power compared to other hashtags that might swell up and fade quickly for the past 10 years this has remained a steady presence on Twitter,” said Monica Anderson, director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center.
Anderson studies technology at the Pew Research Center. Her team analyzed the BLM hashtag and its role in online activism over the last decade.
“Regardless of what race you are, what political affiliation, this content was something that people came across,” she said.
The research tracks several points when the hashtag spiked online.
The first major spike happened in November 2014 after a Ferguson police officer was not indicted for the death of Michael Brown. Then it spiked in July 2016 when five Dallas police officers were killed in an attack following peaceful protests. These demonstrations were in response to the separate shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
The biggest spike in happened in the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd.
The report also shows more than half of all existing tweets with the hashtag were posted between May to September 2020 alone. It shows the use of the hashtag peaked at more than 1.2 million posts in a single day.
“Really speaks to how big of a moment that was for both the movement and the way people engage with the hashtag on Twitter,” said Anderson. “Specifically in that movement, it gave voice to people’s concern around criminal justice and particularly how it affects black communities.”
While most tweets express support for the Black Lives Matter movement, the report also shows about 11% of public tweets convey opposition to it. Those posts often used words like riot or looting when referring to BLM protests or criminal, violent, and terrorist when describing its supporters.
As social media continues to evolve, Anderson believes the hashtag isn’t going away.
“It has become a very important part of the conversation especially when we talk about police violence and police reform and talking about the criminal justice system,” said Anderson.
This study also shows many people have mixed views about the impact of social media overall.
About 67% of adults believe it helps give a voice to underrepresented groups. But at the same time, it shows more than 80% say social media can be distracting from important issues.
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