As the situation derailed in Ferguson, MO and New York City following the grand jury decisions to not indict police officers accused of needlessly killing unarmed black teenagers, social media played a massive role in the demonstrations.
Those following the controversial events in Ferguson are able to stay up to date using hashtags such as: #Ferguson, #TheyGunnedMeDown, #MikeBrown and can even grieve with those in Ferguson using the hashtag #NMOS14. Across the country, demonstrations and protests in cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Baltimore are connected through the use of social media and the popular Ferguson and Eric Garner hashtags. These followers, protesters and social media documenters are swapping national news network coverage for the gritty, uncensored social media accounts of the events on the ground, sometimes countering claims from mainstream media outlets and government officials.
Authorities on site in Ferguson discourage the use of social media to document breaking news—The Associated Press broke an exclusive early this fall claiming that authorities used a Federal Aviation Administration “no-fly zone” directive to block journalists from covering the demonstrations from the air. A St. Louis Alderman Antonio French was arrested on Nov. 26th for recording the protests and police reaction. After being released, French promptly posted more photos of the protests on his Instagram. French’s first tweet after being released from jail the next morning has been retweeted more than four thousand times to date.
“It’s opened everything up, changed how the media decides what’s worthy of coverage—and who to trust,” said David Karpf, assistant Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.
The wave of social media coverage is also very similar to that of protests in other countries such as Egypt and Turkey, and even coverage of the new terrorist group ISIS. Ferguson has been mentioned over 6 million times over social media since Mike Brown’s death, and the #DontShoot hashtag has also been used to raise awareness about police brutality and excessive force.
College students are a large part of the audience for social media coverage of this controversial event and favor this untraditional coverage. “I’ve seen more livestreams over social media showing the peaceful parts than the news networks showing the craziness,” said Junior Ayana Karin.
“I definitely think that social media coverage is better because you get both sides of the story, you get more out of it, said Freshman Ahjah Gage. “It makes you want to retaliate.” Social media coverage also allows for a more in depth and realistic experience in collecting information on an event or controversy such as that which is present in Ferguson.
“They’re actually there,” said Karin. “A lot of the people giving out the information are actually there, instead of the news networks just putting a camera there to ‘see what happens.” Social media coverage may also present less possibility of bias and legal interference, especially in the midst of a controversial event such as Ferguson or the Eric Garner protests.
“I see more of my news on social media than I ever see on a news network,” said Karin. “Its harder to get news from networks, because they are not even saying what’s going on.” Gage feels that social media is a great outlet for news, despite the fact that officials discourage it. “I think definitely because social media is so big and people check their like instagram’s ritually it would just be so easier to get news from there and I trust it more.”
This article originally appeared in the December 3, 2014 edition of The Pace Press.