Tag Archives: Bonilla and Rosa

Summary of “#Ferguson: Digital Protest, Hashtag Ethnography, and the Racial Politics of Social Media in the United States” by Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosa

Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosa in “#Ferguson: Digital Protest, Hashtag Ethnography, and the Racial Politics of Social Media in the United States” discuss and explore the social, political, and technological phenomenon of hashtag activism. One of the main arguments they illustrate is that social media, specifically Twitter hashtags, can be implemented as an influential tool that can help propel activism and movements.

Social media is an interactive virtual technology where individuals can post, share, and reply to others. According to the article, when it was released in 2015, social media was prevalent, with over 56% of the US population owning video-enabled smartphones (Bonilla and Rosa 2015, 5). As the use of technology and social media increases and becomes more ubiquitous, anthropologists inquire whether hashtags should or should not be analyzed in ethnography. Bonilla and Rosa indicate that hashtag ethnography has potential, but anthropologists should be aware of its issues. For example, they discuss the protests and demonstrations that were triggered after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson (Bonilla and Rosa 2015, 4). Following this, there was an upsurge in posts and hashtags on Twitter, with over 3.6 million posts reflecting Brown’s death, and over eight million posts with #Ferguson (Bonilla and Rosa 2015, 5). With such a myriad amount of posts and hashtags, Bonilla and Rosa discuss their interest and concerns for the analysis of social media by anthropologists. They illustrate their interest that with Twitter, people can quickly retrieve a lot of information that is constantly updated as users post and utilize hashtags to help file and arrange specific information. However, they note their concerns that anthropologists must examine the variations in perspectives, and contexts of posts, including why and for whom it was posted. They also introduce the hashtag filtering effect that can dilute information and perspectives as users receive a specific perspective from people in their social network.

Some consider hashtag activism as a poor substitute for real activism as it might not provide a permanent impact. However, even though hashtag activism is digital it still provides a sense of unity and participation as people connect. In the article, hashtags like #HandsUpDontShoot, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, and #NoAngel also created connections and movements as they portrayed the misrepresentation of African Americans in mainstream media. Similarly, “How a Hashtag Defined a Movement” depicts the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement explaining that with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, they wanted to create a space to collaborate and impart messages (Schmidt Gordon). In this article, Bonilla and Rosa help us understand that language isn’t only a confronted interaction, it can be communicated through posts and hashtags on social media, a space to spread information and reflect. They note that this new form of language should be analyzed by anthropologists, but anthropologists should be aware of factors like perspectives. These hashtags were overall powerful socially, politically, and technologically. It provided a public communications platform that spread awareness, where anyone can obtain quickly updated information and news, publicize their notions, and join together in solidarity.

Bonilla, Yarimar, and Rosa Jonathan. 2015. “#Ferguson: Digital Protest, Hashtag Ethnography, and the Racial Politics of Social Media in the United States.” American Ethnologist 42 (1): 4-17.

Schmidt Gordon, Sabrina, director. “How a Hashtag Defined a Movement.Youtube, uploaded by Emerging US, 26 Sept. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8-KZ0RIN3w&feature=youtu.be. 

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/