It’s no secret that Twitter plays a huge role in getting people to talk and think critically about race.
A new analysis by the Pew Research Center looked more deeply into what exactly got Twitter users interested in and posting about race, and compared the role race played on the feeds of white, black and Hispanic users.
According the the study, 60 percent of all Twitter users say they never post anything about race. Black and Hispanic users are much more likely to do so than white users, with 28 percent and 20 percent, respectively, saying that at least some of their posts are about race, compared to 8 percent of white users.
The study looks at a fifteen-month period from January 2015 to March 2016 and pinpoints the top ten events that got Twitter users talking about race the most. All but one of the events on the list were related to either black death or entertainment awards.
The shooting in Charleston, S.C., where nine black people were murdered in a church by a white shooter, drew national outrage and unrest. The day following saw the highest number of tweets about race, topping the list with about 4.3 million tweets. Support for the victims and their families as well as outrage over the tragic crime continued well past that day. Conversations around gun control, mental illness, racism, the definition of terrorism and the identities of the victims took over Twitter. The second day following the shooting came in eighth on the list with around 2.9 million race-related tweets.
The death of 28-year-old Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail, also had Americans outraged last July—to the point where Instagram blocked the #SandraBland hashtag in order to try to curb the violent, racist hate speech in the comments section of many of these posts. Twitter users made #SandraBland, #SayHerName, #BlackLivesMatter and other related hashtags trend for a long time, with the day and day after a release of information about Bland’s death being the third and fifth most talked-about Twitter days when it came to race. #BlackLivesMatter protests relating to Bland’s death made July 29 Twitter’s fourth most active race-discussion day.
When Freddie Gray died in the custody of Baltimore police in April last year, people sent 3.4 million tweets expressing primarily anger and unrest. The failure of prosecutors to convict any of the officers involved also drew ire.
The three days completing the list were the days following the Grammys, Oscars and BET awards, at sixth, ninth and 10th places on the Pew Research Center’s list. Most of the tweets about race surrounding the Grammys and the Oscars had to do with the disproportionate numbers of white performers winning awards, with #OscarsSoWhite being a top trending topic.
Whether or not you use social media to discuss race, the role platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram now play in the way we understand and grapple with racism is one of the most interesting parts of today's world.