The anthropologists Bonilla and Rosa
The anthropologists Bonilla and Rosa suggest that “social media platforms have become powerful sites for documenting and challenging episodes of police brutality and the misrepresentation of racialized bodies in mainstream media.” Discuss this suggestion in close reference to their article. Illustrate your point(s) with more recent examples of protests against racially-tinged police brutality in the United States and/or Canada. Your discussion should include consideration of ethnographic method (i.e., the way we study culture, language, and society in real-life situations).
The Impacts of Social Media in Contemporary Advocacy
The power of information and communication technology (ICT) in contemporary society is depicted in the use of social media for various functions. Besides communication and interaction, social media has been used in accessing NEWS from local, national, and global contexts. Leading platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, significantly influence sharing content, reaching millions of individuals within minutes. The hashtag activism, as described by Bonilla and Rosa (2015), retweeting, sharing, and like options in the social media platforms are critical in meta-sizing an issue. Social media’s significance in contemporary society is also reflected in exposing social injustices, prejudice, harassment, and bullying. Social platforms have revolutionized the advocacy approach. Although there are critics to social-media activism compared to rallies’ physical approach, the impacts of using social media to share messages and advocacy cannot be ignored, as demonstrated in George Floyd and Michael Brown cases.
This paper evaluates Bonilla and Rosa’s suggestion regarding the power of social media platform sites in documenting and challenging social challenges, including police brutality and misrepresentation of the racialized bodies in mainstream media. The discussion is further based on recent global protests, including Black Lives Matter and I Cannot Breathe in solidarity with George Floyd.
The impacts of social media, particularly in civil rights protests, have been massive in contemporary society compared to the 1960s. According to Ovide (2020), an example of the civil rights movement in the twentieth century was that showing Jim Crow’s brutality, resulting in the white Americans seriously considering the black citizens’ concerns. This was achieved through the national media. Today, however, the advocacy and demonstrations of social challenges facing the community are shared through social media. George Floyd’s issue is a profound example of how social media influences advocacy against social prejudice. The video was recorded and shared via social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This elicited a response from the minority communities and some of the white Americans standing in solidarity against racial profiling and police brutality. Weeks and months of protests globally were started by the video showing the reality of the activities. This is another importance of social media, to allow the community to see the reality. This makes the injustices visible and meaningful, prompting action from society.
Bonilla and Rosa (2015) commence the discussion regarding social media’s power in influencing protests and exposing the social injustices by Michael Brown’s incident on August 9, 2014, who a police officer shot. A Twitter post within the hour of incidence surfaced together with a lifeless body photograph with the hands alongside the head and face down. Immediately, the community began assembling to demand an explanation. Some of the protests’ core elements were demanding an explanation for the shooting, yet the individual had surrendered, demonstrated through the hands-up gesture. The significance of the social media platforms is that within a few minutes, Michael Brown’s information had reached millions of individuals globally, invoking an action. This was followed by weeks of impromptu gatherings, demonstrations, and confrontations with the police. Social media’s importance was also reflected in the documentation of the details surrounding the protests and gatherings across the social media networks, including Instagram, YouTube, Vine, and Twitter. It is apparent that without these networks, the information would not have reached the enormous online community, and the police brutality and social prejudice against the minority communities would have continued.
As demonstrated in Michael Brown’s incident, social media’s importance reflects on the platforms’ impacts and power in exposing social issues and documenting them. The racialized bodies are also voicing their concerns in the mainstream media, eliciting support from the wider community. Bonilla and Rosa (2015) use several cases and instances to support this assertion. An example is the 1991 homemade production of a VHS tape of Rodney King’s brutal beating by police officers. The tape was a suitable example of citizen-based journalism. In contemporary society, this type of journalism has increased through ownership of video-enabled smartphones. The majority of African Americans are using mobile technology to document state-sanctioned violence incidences. These technologies have also helped in fostering media representations of marginalized communities and racialized bodies. Public outcry has been enhanced by the use of mobile technology, which helps in recording and circulating the footage for events. Another importance of using these technologies is to influence anthropological attention. Through social platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, activism has been enhanced on matters concerning state violence and racial inequalities.
The increase of social media usage has changed the ethnography of understanding various cultures in their settings and accounting for social well-being issues. According to Hao (2020), documenting the racially profiled individuals’ issues transcends describing the incidence to including awareness of these individuals’ cultural issues. Since the protests began, several other videos that capture the police brutality incidences have been uploaded. The role of these videos is to show the social and cultural differences existing in the community. In the US, these groups, including African Americans, Asians, and Latinos, have been discriminated against, demonstrated through social prejudice. The social media further provides access to more information regarding the different cultures, their history, and the current progress towards addressing the issue. An ethnographic approach towards understanding cultures and society involves the use of various triangulation methods. Examples include the use of interviews and informal conversations. Social media presents that opportunity to triangulate the source of the information and the informal discussions. In the talks, such as those involving George Floyd and Michael Brown, Twitter, among other social platforms, provided a chance for starting a conversation and maintaining momentum. The social media was also an opportunity to continue to Black Lives Matter Movement and “I can’t Breathe” discussion. An example of achieving these movements’ objectives is the hashtag approach, as described by Bonilla and Rosa (2015). This helps in distinguishing the everyday conversations from the trending ones for meaningful discussions. The hashtag approach further helps in sensitizing the issue and having everyone involved in the conversation.
Social media’s role in modern protests is simplifying the organization and coordination of large groups and influencing policy changes. As Hao (2020) described, the videos and shared content are aimed at demonstrating the issues facing society and starting a conversation that will help in policy reforms to address the social challenges. The video footages are transformed into a permanent aspect of policy development and reforms. This is achieved in three phases. First, there should be a witness to the social injustices. This is followed by legislating at different levels, including the local, federal, and state levels. This is aimed at dismantling the systems protecting the police after the acts. The final step is organizing the community programs to watch and hold the police accountable. All these aspects are enabled through social media. In the example of George Floyd, the video capturing the May 25, 2020 incident was shared through the platforms, prompting various protests against police brutality’s social prejudice. Some of the noticeable changes were the firing of Mr. Chauvin and the three other police officers. The individuals were charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. This incident and the subsequent events show social media’s role in achieving social changes on various issues, including marginalized communities and police brutality. As Bonilla and Rosa (2015) described, social media innovations, such as the hashtag, are a field site for airing concerns and invoking actions. This demonstrates the impacts of digital practices in contemporary society.
In summary, Bonilla and Rosa (2015) suggest that social media platforms have become powerful sights for social transformation in challenges, such as police brutality and misrepresentation of racialized bodies. This suggestion is demonstrated through the use of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to share social prejudice and the challenges facing the minority populations. For instance, through the hashtag approach, social media prompts for conversations that may result in policy reforms. The digital platforms also provide society with a voice to share their concerns and ideas. The information reaches millions of individuals through sharing, like, and hashtag aspects in the social media applications. The digital platforms also provide an opportunity for ethnography, to learn about various cultures and the issues surrounding them. ICT has revolutionized the access and sharing of information, promoting cultural awareness and citizen journalism. As demonstrated in George Floyd and Michael Brown’s cases, social media’s significance is demonstrated in promoting advocacy and social changes.
Bonilla, Y., & Rosa, J. (2015). #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States. American Ethnologist, 42(1), 4–17. doi:10.1111/amet.12112
Ovide, S. (2020). How social media has changed civil rights protests. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/18/technology/social-media-protests.html
Hao, K. (2020). How to turn filming the police into the end of police brutality. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/06/10/1002913/how-to-end-police-brutality-filming-witnessing-legislation/