JHTL’s mission, as written in our constitution, is to promote the education, research, and publication of ideas and issues regarding technology. Given the inextricable linkage between technology and social justice, it is beyond time that we use our status as an honor board to provide a platform for discussion surrounding the continuous inequalities that remain persistent in our communities. This Black Lives Matter blog series seeks to highlight the deliberate disparate treatment of Black people and to provide a space for discourse surrounding technology and social justice issues
By Francesca Santoro, Event Coordinator
In June of 2020, social media became overwhelmed with content concerning the Black Lives Matter movement. Hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackOutTuesday were widespread on all social media platforms, and posts about protests and petitions surrounding racial injustice and police brutality were constant. Social media’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) movement was not a single occurrence but has continued for months since, as users advocate for education regarding racism and demand justice for the murders of members of the African American community. This uproar was a direct response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Minnesota police officer that was captured on video and shared on all social media networks.
The Black Lives Matter movement originated back in 2013 through a Facebook post that was made in response to George Zimmerman being acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin. This has led the Black Lives Matter hashtag to be used as a means of spreading awareness of the systemic racism faced by members of the Black community. The movement became more centered around the issue of police brutality towards African Americans in 2014 when Michael Brown, a black teenager, was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer. The mentality behind the movement is that these instances of police brutality against black people are not singular instances but rather are part of a greater and reoccurring issue in America that often gets overlooked.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement gained national traction in 2014 after the Brown murder, as it was used over 1.7 million times on Twitter in a span of just 3 weeks following the grand jury’s refusal to indict the police officer responsible. However, while the hashtag became associated with the issue of police brutality against African Americans, there were no noticeable changes being made to public policy concerning the issue. In the coming years, there would be some awareness towards the movement in the media, mainly by activists such as football player Colin Kaepernick who famously pioneered the movement’s message by kneeling during the national anthem. However, Kaepernick’s display brought seemingly no legislative impact. The whole trajectory of the movement changed when George Floyd was murdered in 2020.
For those unaware, George Floyd was an African American man who was brutally murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin this past May for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck as he lay face down gasping for air. This gruesome murder occurred over the span of 9 minutes and was captured on video, as Floyd repeated over 20 times that he could not breathe while the other three officers present assisted in the arrest and watched as Floyd became unresponsive and eventually died.
When the video of Floyd’s murder surfaced on various social medial platforms, the internet was in uproar. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was used almost 50 million times on Twitter alone over the course of the week following Floyd’s murder. In addition, the movement transcended the internet and had visible impacts on the investigation process for his murder, most notably securing the criminal charges of all the officers involved. Other major changes led by the movement included protests in all 50 states, support by local governments, sports franchises, and major corporations, and awareness towards other victims of police brutality whose murders had gone unnoticed. The shift of Black Lives Matter to a global movement was initiated by the use of social media and the widespread call by users for activism on issues of race and justice through raising awareness of petitions and protests that championed change.
While hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackoutTuesday, and #ICan’tBreathe were used to raise awareness and show solidarity towards the BLM movement, they were also used as tools to provide people with resources on how to become more educated on issues of systemic racism. The use of social media as a tool to change public policy concerning police brutality has been significant, as it was used to inform people of protests and petitions concerning the BLM movement. Millions of signatures on petitions and donations to BLM campaigns were used to fund the legal representation and bail for many of the protesters who were arrested, as well as opening investigations relating to the murders of other African Americans who were the subjects of police brutality. In addition, the defund the police movement has gained increased awareness as a result of social media. This movement advocates addressing the issue of police brutality at its core by reducing funding allocated to police and putting that money towards the resources needed by these communities, such as education and housing.
The impact of social media on the BLM movement has been astronomical, as it was not only the vehicle that gave rise to justice for George Floyd’s murder but also that which gave a voice to those who have been ignored and overlooked in the criminal justice system. While there is still a long way to go, the use of social media has been essential in highlighting the changes that need to be made in law enforcement and criminal justice policies. The instantaneous nature of social media has allowed for this important dialogue to take place, as well as enabling the public to insist on holding those responsible accountable for the lives lost to systemic racism.
Student Bio: Francesca Santoro is a second-year student at Suffolk University Law School and is currently a staff member on The Journal of High Technology. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Criminology, Ethics, and Mathematics from the University of Toronto.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.