The shooting and killing of unarmed eighteen-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has dominated the news cycle the last couple weeks. The shooting, which happened on August 10th, sparked an eruption of protests against police brutality in the small town outside St. Louis and across the nation. By now, you’ve probably heard about or seen #Ferguson and other related tags. Some of the most memorable images were those taken by bystanders. This interactive graphic shows how Twitter made the Ferguson incident international news in just a few days.
Needless to say, social media has proven to be an extremely powerful tool in spreading awareness of police misconduct as it gives everyone the ability to report incidents of police brutality. The impact is significant. Last month a concerned citizen filmed and shared with the public the video of the NYPD officer choking Eric Garner to death. Yesterday, the Staten Island District Attorney announced that a grand jury will hear evidence relating to the incident and determine whether criminal charges will be brought against the police officers. This step towards police accountability is, at least in part, the result of the community using media outlets to spread the word about the incident and demanding justice.
Social media also allows citizens to draw attention to new, related topics that would not garnish the same level of readership without the ability to link one article or campaign to another. For example, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown has gone viral since Michael Brown’s death, leading to a prevalent online discussion of the media’s bias when depicting African Americans victims of violence.
More than ever before, the public decides which topics are “newsworthy,” and no one needs a journalism degree to affect the news. The comments following articles on current events can provide just as much information as the articles themselves, and the impact of a hash tag campaign is determined by how the public decides to utilize it. Take for example the #myNYPD campaign. The New York Police Department launched this campaign to give the community a forum to share their positive encounters with the police. But the community decided that the real news was NYPD’s use of excessive force and posted pictures of police brutality and misconduct.
— Justin Wedes (@justinwedes) April 22, 2014
Greater awareness of police misconduct and brutality will increase the pressure to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions. Continue to spread the word – follow us on Twitter, like our page on Facebook – let’s stand together to stop police brutality!