Digital Citizenship’s Role in the Black Lives Matter Movement
*This blog is a project for Study Unit MCS3953, University of Malta*
One may ask what is the difference between a citizen and a digital citizen? And I have the answer for you. All you need to become a digital citizen is to have a phone, laptop, or tablet, or some kind of device, on which you can access the world wide web. There are almost as many digital citizens as there are normal citizens, meaning that almost everyone in the world has access to the internet. This also means that large companies and manufacturers who make this technology for us to be able to access the internet with, are the ones who are benefitting and pocketing millions per year.
According to Castells (2012), the space-times of the urban ‘space of place’ and the digital ‘space of flows’ have blurred. Meaning that a person in the comfort of his home can be aware and follow a protest going on outside, or even on the other side of the world. Let us take the example of the Black Lives Matter movement — a movement against the extra-judicial killings of black people in America. This movement has grown way beyond America and focuses on the equality and social justice of black people all over the world. This movement started with a Twitter hashtag which was established by three black queer women back in 2013. Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors wanted to create a virtual space where people could express their anger at the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The movement kept on growing in 2014 with the protest following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson. A prominent protestor and prolific #BlackLivesMatter Twitter user, DeRay McKesson (Kang 2014), argues that:
Social media was our weapon against erasure. It is how many of us first become aware of the protests and how we learned where to go, or what to do when teargassed, or who to trust… Many of us became friends digitally, first. And then we, the protestors, met in person. Social media allowed us to become our own storytellers. With it, we seized the power of our truth.
Social movement theorist Manuel Castells (2012), implies that these companies and manufacturers are in control of all that we ingest from the internet. However, in contrast to this, the uses and gratifications theory asserts that people use media to gratify specific wants and needs. Unlike many media theories that view media users as passive, the uses, and gratifications theory sees users as active agents who have control over their media consumption. In the remaining piece of this blog post, I will be putting into perspective the uses and gratifications theory of someone who has never heard of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
This theory first states that the ‘consumer’ searches for news or social media profiles the be informed. So if for example, person X frequents the local pub and hears someone speaking about this movement, person X will be intrigued and therefore inclined to search online about this movement in order to become educated on this topic. Based on the information that person X finds online, an opinion will be formed in their mind. So there is a 50/50 chance of this person finding positive posts about the movement or negative ones. This is what the uses and gratifications theory asserts as having a personal identity. Similarly, an Instagram influencer that person X follows can sway their thoughts based on their opinion. This can be linked also with what the theory asserts as integration and social interaction, meaning that person X only follows blogs about this topic so that they can be in the know and participate in a conversation at work where they mention BLM for example.
Most people say that they find media useful for entertainment. As an example, we can look at the brutal death of George Floyd which happened last year. For many white people, the video of him being beaten which went viral might be a means for them to laugh. And who's to say how many memes can be made about the situation — making something as serious and somber as death, a joke. Lastly, the uses and gratifications theory asserts that people search the internet as a means of escapism. A person might be having trouble at home or mental problems and in order to forget about what they are going through, they revert to fixating on this movement.
In conclusion to all that you have just read, as you might have already heard millions of times before, the media and the internet have their ups and downs. However, it is up to us digital citizens to keep an eye out for what we search for and what we post online. Remember, there is another human being with feelings on the other side of the screen!
- Akwugo Emejulu & Callum McGregor (2019) Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education, Critical Studies in Education, 60:1, 131–147, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2016.1234494