Social media platform Twitter played a critical role in helping Black Lives Matter with organising and spreading information during the peak of the movement, according to a new study.
The analysis by the Australian National University looked at 118 million tweets over a two-year period from 2020 to 2021.
“For activists, we can see protests acted as an indicator for the number of tweets, but also the number of tweets acted as an indicator for protests,” said lead researcher Prof. Colin Klein.
“You can clearly see the patterns of political engagement. Activists drive and are driven by protests, while the right reacts more to the political context,” he said in a statement.
The most common hashtags identified by the team were #BlackLivesMatter, #GeorgeFloyd, #BreonnaTaylor, #Black, and #ICantBreathe. These hashtags helped the movement go viral.
Black Lives Matter has been criticised for hijacking legitimate concerns around excessive police force to advance Critical Race Theory while fomenting violent protests around the United States and the world—as well as acts like “taking a knee” and pulling down statues of historical figures.
Critical Race Theory argues that the United States is systematically racist and oppressive, with whites supposedly dominating blacks.
However, this theory has been panned for sharing the same undertones and ideas as Marxist and communist regimes while ignoring the real issues afflicting Black communities.
Right, Left Wing Twitter Users React Differently To Crises
Further, the team found identified three distinct groups of commentators using Twitter: right-leaning, centre-left, and left-wing activists.
The study concluded that left-wing activists were effective at generating heightened, short-term activity on the platform to grab attention, but this would soon dissipate.
In contrast, right-leaning accounts were often reactionary to left-wing activity and were more sustained and moderate.
“This is similar to what researchers have found in the wake of, say, a mass shooting in the U.S. You get a lot of attention around gun control very early on, but a much longer-lasting interest in gun purchasing,” said Klein.
The team noticed similar activity patterns after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
“We also saw a shift in the way right-wing accounts were framing things. Early on, they were more split, and there was a lot of pro-police rhetoric. After George Floyd’s murder, this was swamped by the ‘activists as terrorists’ framing,” he said.
Musk Divides the Left
Social media platform Twitter has been routinely criticised for censoring content from right-leaning or conservative commentators, notably removing former U.S. President Donald Trump from the platform—despite allowing Chinese Communist Party officials and the Taliban to remain.
As a result, the recent purchase of Twitter by billionaire innovator Elon Musk was praised by leading conservatives, including Republicans Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), as a win for free speech.
Musk promptly dismissed the CEO and executive board and is reportedly revamping company operations—while earmarking a new subscription service—to make the platform more profitable.
In response, former CEO Jack Dorsey’s new platform, Bluesky, began picking up steam following news of the purchase suggesting left-leaning users may be opting out of Twitter.
Despite the speed of Musk cleaning house at Twitter, Jason Miller, the CEO and founder of Gettr—a competitor to Twitter established in July 2021—was cynical the social media platform could be changed.
“There’s no saving Twitter. It’s a dying platform. And even Elon Musk doesn’t truly believe in Twitter … If he could get out of overpaying for Twitter and skip that looming deposition, he would do it in a heartbeat,” Miller said in a statement.
“Twitter’s numbers aren’t real. They know it, we know it, and most importantly, Elon Musk knows it. That’s why he questioned them over and over again.”
Miller said true change at Twitter could only be achieved if “every coder, every engineer, and every moderator” was dismissed as political discrimination was “too fundamentally rooted” in the company’s culture.
Gettr recorded a 50 percent growth in user numbers over the past year, beating out MeWe and Parler. The platform reports a user base of 6.5 million globally.