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The Role Social Media Plays In Social Justice Movements, A UWM Lecturer Explains

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Sfio Cracho
Videos of police brutality on social media can elicit strong emotions but don't often change minds, says UW-Milwaukee lecturer Marc Tasman.

It’s been almost one year since a video first surfaced of a Minneapolis Police Officer suffocating George Floyd and eventually murdering him. The video led to historic protests against police brutality and a year of calls for increased accountability for police.

This wasn’t the first video of police violence that has gone viral on the internet and more, like the shooting of Jacob Blake, have been shared in the year since — showing that social media has become intertwined with the movement for racial justice.

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Marc Tasman is a senior lecturer at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Department of Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies. He says with prevalence of cameras, social justice movements have become dependent on video.

“The camera is a powerful tool, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a weapon but more like a shield especially, you know, in the hands people now that we all carry cameras with us all the time,” says Tasman.

Tasman says videos like the one of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derrick Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd elicit strong emotion responses and make watchers feel like they need to take action. He says sharing the video is usually the first action that users take.

While those responses are powerful, Tasman says they usually aren’t good for changing minds.

“It already kind of snaps to a preexisting belief system, so it doesn’t necessarily change what we believe, it only makes us double down on what we believe. That to me, I think it’s an area of caution for how we use this media,” he says.

But it isn’t just negative, Tasman says social media offers a space to share information and organize people after a video goes viral.

“To use the digital network to say, ‘Listen, we’ve all seen that, now, I have an idea of a campaign so everybody who has seen that video sign this petition or everybody who has seen that video and wants justice, meet at the park at this time and this place,'” he says.

That information can be important in achieving real accountability but often it has to go further than social media, Tasman says. The pandemic has kept people from meeting in-person and having conversations around complex issues, an experience, he says, is important.

Tone can be difficult to understand without being in the same room as another person, especially just reading a statement online. Tasman says social media can remove the ability to develop empathy for others and returning to in-person conversations will be crucial as it becomes safer.

For now, Tasman says it can be frustrating waiting for accountability.

“Accountability comes when not just people in power, in positions of power, not just politicians, lawmakers, but when everyday people say, ‘We need to talk about this,'” he says.

Joy Powers is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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