Social Media and Social Movements: On the sixth anniversary of #BlackLivesMatter

July 13th, the Black Lives Matter Movement celebrates its sixth anniversary, marking six years since the viral hashtag ignited a global movement. In 2020, social media users surpassed 3.8 billion, making social media essential in the survival of social movements such as Black Lives Matter. With social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, any user can be a political activist. How essential is social media to social movements, and how do we address the toxicity in social media? 

Social media movements, such as Me Too and the Black Lives Matter, have sparked wildfires throughout social media. The viral hashtags have drawn global attention to immigration, racial, economic, and gender issues, drawing more than a million daily Tweets, posts, and shares globally. In 2006, activist Tarana Burke founded the Me Too campaign to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low-income communities. The Me Too Movement sparked a global conversation on sexual harassment in the workplace. A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found #MeToo was used more than 19 million times on Twitter since actress Alyssa Milano’s initial tweet in 2017.

In 2013 Black Lives Matter was started by activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. It has since transformed into a global organization. The Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc. is active in the US, UK, and Canada, with the mission to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities.

In response to the death of George Floyd in police custody in late May 2020, the use of the Black Lives Matter hashtag peaked three days after the death of George Floyd. On that day alone, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, #BlackLivesMatter was tweeted 8.8 million times. In the following two weeks after Floyd’s death, users tweeted #BlackLivesMatter an average of nearly 3.7 million times per day. The New York Times reported that the Black Lives Matter Movement may be the largest in U.S history. According to a recent poll by Civis Analytics, about 15 million to 26 million people in the U.S. have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others in recent weeks.

At the same time, social media is also an essential tool to expose the “Karen’s”. The use of social media platforms has created a constant state of surveillance, in which constant surveillance has grown beyond the parameters of fun, harmless videos into a form of social policing. Exposing CEOs, business owners, and schoolteachers for public outbursts has created viral villains. More often than not, these outbursts caught on camera lead to job termination, threats of violence, and public outcry. In July of 2020, lawmakers introduced legislation such as the CAREN Act, an acronym for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, which was introduced in San Francisco. The CAREN Act criminalizes individuals who call law enforcement based on racial bias. Social media acts as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it effortlessly and instantaneously carries dialogue across various social boundaries. On the other, social media acts as judge, jury, and executioner.

Companies that operate and manage Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have also exposed toxicity within the use and operational aspects of social media platforms. The use of social media allows for the uncensored spread of misinformation. With an estimated 3.8 billion social media users across a wide range of platforms, hate speech and targeted violence often go unregulated and uncensored. Consider QAnon. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have seen a significant increase in QAnon content, which spreads medical misinformation, raising public health concerns. This increased visibility in misinformation has created a problem in the regulation of content on social media platforms. More than 500 advertisers are boycotting Facebook for failure to control these divisive and hateful content, pulling into question the policies and ethical practices of social media platforms.

In July 2020, complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Facebook allege patterns of racial bias against Black employees in evaluations, promotions, pay, and hiring practices. A recent report shows, eighty-seven percent of Facebook’s workers are either Asian or white, while Black workers make up just 3.8 percent.   

Social media have transformed the mobilization and solidarity for social movements. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, is no longer used to share the mundane daily activities of life. Platforms have been transformed into ground zero for the largest social movements this U.S has ever seen. The wide use and dependence on social media for mobilization furthers the exploitation and perpetuation of social inequities the movement is striving to eradicate.


(Photo Credit 1: Black Lives Matter) (Photo Credit 2: Houston Chronicle / Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

My freshman year at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, or UNN, a guy almost raped me

Busola Dakolo

My freshman year at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, or UNN, a guy almost raped me. He threatened to bring out a gun, he slapped me, he said I could scream as loudly as I wanted, no one would come to help me. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, he had a reputation for being a rapist so “whoever went to his room was asking for it.” Years before then, I was still in high school, our family physician whom I called uncle, touched me up on his examination table. Years before then, I was in elementary school then, my mother’s cousin cornered me in the kitchen and squeezed my non-existent boobs. The UNN guy, let’s call him EE, is now some sort of ‘evangelist’ in Lagos; the physician is still practicing, somewhere in Europe; my mother’s cousin is dead. It’s been many years, but I’ve never forgotten. I also never told my mother until many, many years after the fact. People saying they don’t believe Busola Dakolo because she’s only now telling her story should take several seats behind. There are reasons why sexual assault victims in our society keep quiet. 

For one, ours is one where the culture of victim blaming/shaming is entrenched. To be raped is to become ‘damaged goods.’ EE raped with impunity because he knew the consequences, socially (and culturally), were worse for his victims than it would be for him. Victims found themselves in the uncomfortable position of protecting him so they could protect themselves. No one really expected justice from the authorities (school or police) in any case. Had he succeeded in raping me, I’d have told my brother (only so that my brother could organize to have him beaten up).Even if I had had the courage to walk around campus with the scarlet letter on my forehead, the shame we force rape victims to carry, I would have thought of reporting him to authorities as an exercise in futility. 

In the past days, I’ve read heartbreaking stories on my twitter timeline: a father beating his daughter for “allowing herself to be raped”; a mother beating her daughter for reporting that she was touched inappropriately by an older relative etc. etc. etc. I remember, a few years ago, reading of a man who forced his daughter’s rapist to marry her to “wipe away the shame.” 

Years ago, I took a break from Osuofia after I watched ‘Osuofia Speaks French’ where the character marries his rape victim (by whom he has a son), and her parents and friends, happy for her, tell her she’s no longer a “fallen woman” and “Now, your son is no longer a bastard.” That has long been the dynamics of rape in our society: the power to give and to rehabilitate rests with the criminal. 

However, things seem to be changing. It’s been heartening to hear stories of parents who’ve acted like they should; to see that there seems to be a movement determined to force offenders to answer for their crimes; that there is a new generation of Naija parents raising children to understand that there is no excuse for rape, and therefore the shame of the crime belongs ONLY to the criminal. Soon, we will break down the wall of undeserved shame that walls victims in and emboldens offenders. The future is bright #MeToo


(Photo Credit: Nigerian Tribune)

And, me too. Duh.

We are all sick and tired of having to remind or convince others that people of all marginalized gender statuses systematically experience sexual harassment and sexual assault. Too many of us can’t or don’t say “me too” because we have already been murdered by this terror or we are exercising self-care or we don’t feel safe to share or we are too young or poor to have access to social media or our sexual violence experiences are not just caused by patriarchal forces or we simply don’t like the fact that we still have to say this shit out loud to reveal the prevalence of sexual violence. So if you’re surprised reading those “me too”s pouring on your timelines, please add the silenced/silent ones to the list; then you may feel the real terror.

And, me too. Duh.