The Impact of Social Media on the Ferguson Tragedy

The job of a journalist is an elite and untouchable job, reserved for only the sparkling beautiful people we feel like waking up to every morning to see on TV. Right? Only someone with a paper that says they are allowed to be a journalist can report the news, that’s the only way we can believe what is being said. Really? In the last twenty years this may have been considered true by the majority of Americans, but with semi-pro recording and uploading devices hitting critical mass recently, the tide has been gradually changing. In fact, I think in light of recent events, we can safely say it has turned.

Technology has forever changed the way journalism works. There is no greater evidence of this than in the case of the tragedy in Ferguson, MO. In the past, this mess would have been swept under the bed out of sight, for the predictable narrative of highly trained and well armed cop shoots unarmed black man in self defense. The intrepid media was quick to dismiss the story and move to more salubrious topics like the ice-bucket challenge. But that is not the way it went, and for one reason alone: the tech of today in the form of smartphones capable of taking HD video, broadcasting news reports by audio, making blog posts, Twitter hashtags and Facebook. As the MSM attempted to move on, in a casual “nothing to see here” way, their determination to ignore the over-the-top suppression of protests and arrests of journalists that apparently didn’t get the memo sparked a backlash of the people taking matters into their own hands, er, smartphones. How dare the illustrious media celebrities tell us what is news and what is not news? The public wants to know what happened! Citizen journalists armed with today’s version of the Guttenburg printing press put the story back to our attention, in all its gory glory.

In the not so distant past, we have seen some pretty creative ways in utilizing social media to attract attention to a cause like this. Photoshopped memes, like the “pepper spray” meme, depicting Lt. John Pike, a California police officer who pepper sprayed an innocent, unarmed and peaceful crowd of demonstrators at Occupy on the UC Davis campus, tend to go viral, especially if the meme makes one -LOL- The variations this meme went through wound up depicting the officer pepper spraying the Statue of Liberty, the signers of the Declaration of Independence, pregnant mothers, religious figures, and figures in famous works of art. Someone made up a Twitter account to gather it all in on spot, @PepperSprayCop. It got the message across big time, with no money down, no overpaid, overly made-up talking heads and no (apparent) government involvement.

Memes are to be feared for sure, but what is worse to an evil doer with “cover up” on the mind? Twitter has been by far the best springboard to the way in which the new citizen journalists of the Social Media revolution have influenced recent events, be it in Ferguson or anywhere else. Through the use of Twitter hashtags such as #Ferguson, #blacklivesmatter, #iftheygunnedmedown, as well as countless others, Twitter has majorly been accomplice in creating awareness of new police brutality stories and the marginalization of black communities by the big bad police. Whether or not this is all true, is another subject entirely. Reporting has never been about the truth, however, it’s been about creating a story that will stick and sell. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

As data shows that about 44% of Blacks and Latinos use smart-phones (source), the use of Twitter allows for creating a more unified and organized community to rally against police violence, political corruption, as well as the excuses and cover-ups for it. Everyone who has tried to do their duty at the voting booth knows that change does not come by throwing the old bums out and putting new bums in. It comes through real challenges to the ruling class, as well as their allies in the MSM, by organized communities that put the pressure on. This has been fostered, nurtured and turned loose in a large way by social media. Without it, Michael Brown would be but another obituary in the history of police violence, while everyone else, like the President, turns to another round of golf.


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