Tweets shift tone before Black Lives Matter protests

An analysis of nearly 29 million tweets reveals qualities of the Black Lives Matter movement, including a tone shift on Twitter just before protests began.

The researchers collected tweets surrounding four major events: the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (August 2014); the decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson (November 2014); protests and the shooting deaths of two New York City police officers (December 2014); and the death of Freddie Gray while in custody of Baltimore police officers (April 2015).

The team also plugged in data of more than 10,000 deaths due to police shootings since 2000. From that, they outlined which states, based on their African-American population, had the highest rates of deaths. Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico were among the highest in the mainland US.

The study found that being from a state with historically high rates of black victimization due to police violence, especially in the South and Midwest, was linked to peoples’ response on social media even if the state wasn’t the scene of the current BLM event.

Researchers found that the community is unlike many other social movements because of its ability to bond over the course of many months. More than a third of those who participated via social media for the first time continued their participation during the next BLM event.

BLM was born on Facebook in 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Florida’s Trayvon Martin. During each subsequent event, the movement has contradicted typical Twitter stereotypes. The study found that on average 36 percent of first-time BLM users participated again.

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“Other hashtags movements have helped spread awareness about important issues, but many of them quickly lose their momentum,” says Shagun Jhaver, a PhD student and study coauthor. “The Black Lives Matter movement realizes it’s part of a long-term social transformation and shows continual engagement. And it continues despite having no formal hierarchal structure.”

The research won best paper when it was presented last month at the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media in Germany. Partial funding came from the National Institutes of Health. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Georgia Tech