Summary of #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States by Bonilla. Y and Rosa J.

The article summarized in this blog is called #Ferguson:Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States by Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosa. The article chiefly talks about the usage of hashtags on Twitter and their influence on social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and the differing perspectives on hashtag activism. It also opens up the discussion of ethnographic approaches to hashtag activism and Twitter. The main argument in the article is that social media, especially hashtag activism has  given voices to groups which have been racially profiled, subjected to victim blaming and stereotypes. Thus, social media gives voice to these marginalized groups to amplify their activism, and spread out their message.

The author supports her argument mainly by mentioning several incidents where African Americans were murdered in the wake of social media such as Twitter and how the masses reacted to their murders. They mention the killing of Michael Brown in Ferugson and how on Twitter, the protestors were able to participate in live protests. The hashtag #Ferugson also leads to other hashtags such as #HandsUpDontShoot, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and #NoAngel. The author details all these tags in the light of Ferugson and even provides pictorial evidence of this hashtag “HandsUpDontShoot, to relate to how Michael Brown had his hands up yet the policeman shot him. The author supports the argument of victim blaming by mentioning the hashtag #NoAngel. They give an example of the NY Times articles which calls the victim no angel and states that he was involved in drugs and scuffles (8). Thus, many African Americnas started this hashtag to address the media shaming black men and defending police racial profiling. The article’s topic of hashtags’ role in social activism and BlackLivesMatter offers a new perspective on how linguistic  anthropologists need to be cognizant of the new age where sites like Twitter and hashtags can become new ethnographic sites. There can be a number of problems for ethnographers as they have to search and be vary of contexts of hashtags, their audiences and the users who tweeted. Hashtags can offer a new way for language to be explored as these provide a complex world with many ideas, users and interconnected ideas.

The author’s choice to write this article underscores the growing need for researchers to consider hashtags and their complicated world of myriad messages as the article paves the way for social media sites and new linguistic approaches like hashtags to be taken seriously. The author’s reason to write this article seems to stem from the rising social movements and awareness about the disregard of black lives and the important role of Twitter in amplifying their voices and bringing forth their struggles. As Caitlin Dewey writes in her article What Social Media did for Ferugson, the social media helped users do good like spread literacy, awareness and amplify voices and also helped recognize that “even in the world’s most powerful democracy, justice simply wasn’t being done.”

BONILLA, Y. and ROSA, J. (2015), #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States. American Ethnologist, 42: 4-17

Dewey, C, 2014 Nov 25, “What Social Media did for Ferugson,” Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/11/25/what-social-media-did-for-ferguson/

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