#BlackLivesMatter: Investigating a Social Movement Through Social Media
(School of Public Health (UMD) Department of Behavioral and Community Health Doctoral Student)
In 2015, over 1,000 people were killed by law enforcement in the United States with African Americans killed at 2.8 times the rate of white non-Latinos. This startling fact supports a call to investigate racial inequities in the United States, which is exactly what the Black Lives Matter movement aims to do. This movement started online and continues today using the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. While the Black Lives Matter movement has evoked many academic and popular responses, there has been a distinct lack of focus on this movement by the public health discipline. This research highlights the importance of viewing this social movement through a public health lens by focusing on themes of violence and racism, which are well-documented health issues. Social media twitter data from the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was collected and analyzed for most frequently used words, top hashtags, most frequent images, top contributors, and top influencers to determine who is using this hashtag and the relevant public health themes within the tweet content. A sub-sample of tweets was geocoded and maps were created to identify the prevalence of tweets in different areas of the world. #BlackLivesMatter tweets tended to reflect domestic events popularized by the media with most attention placed on issues of racial injustice and police brutality. More tweets originated from states with higher disproportions of Black deaths by law enforcement, indicating that this movement may be more prevalent in areas with higher rates of racial inequities. These preliminary findings demonstrate the capabilities and usefulness of twitter aggregate data and Google Fusion Tables to examine #BlackLivesMatter. Future research should examine implications of this work for public health practitioners and continue to investigate Black Lives Matter as an important issue in public health.