Race and the Digital: Racial Formation and 21st Century Technologies

#BlackLiveMatter A Movement By: Arturo Sotelo

Over the last few centuries,  cultures and politics have changed in many different ways; some of these changes have been planned while other changes have been developing  naturally. In some cultures, war was the solution for creating changes, in other cultures the changes were defined by a single ruler, and yet other changes are brought about through collective bargaining.  Whatever the methods are for bringing about these social changes, as people have become able to create praxis, social movements have had to become increasingly stronger. In our modern times, these social movements have been increasingly effective in producing important changes; some movements that come to mind are those in favor of women’s suffrage,  civil rights,  Chicano rights, and the Zapatista and anti- Apartheid movements,  just to name a few. As our world becomes increasingly connected through digital technologies, the possibilities of harnessing these technologies in order to power social movements seems only limited by the imagination. Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has been able to tap the essential elements of previous social movements, culminating in the use of new technologies to strengthen the fight for an end to violence against Black people in the USA.  

The goal of the Black Lives Matter movement was to raise awareness about  the unjust police brutality against  Blacks in the US. The Black Lives Matter movement, has used social media to empower and educate people by accomplishing three important tasks:  the compression of geographic time and space,  transmedia organizing, and massive  intersectionality. The movement was able to bring together a diverse group of people  because it was able to communicate the message to  the masses in rapid, affordable,  and accessible manner. The use of multiple media platforms, not only those used by the young, was effective in communicating the message to a wide number of people who do not all use the same media, but all use some form of social media. Because they were able to get this message across different platforms to diverse audiences, the movement was strengthened as people across the USA became aware of and enmeshed in the intersectionalities of varied communities..

    Modern technological advancements in information and  communication technology (ICT’s),  allo the Black Lives Matter movement was able to overcome geographic time and space barriers that slow the flow of information. One of the biggest problems that previous movements have encountered are the spatial obstacles that do not allow for groups to relay information in a timely manner. Overtime technologies have helped overcome this space, for the American during the beginnings of the revolution, the post was really the only way that allowed people to relay messages across long spaces; sometimes these messages would take days. It was not until the telegraph, that communication of information across vast distances became a manageable task. In modern times this task has been assuaged by the ICT’s, they speed up the  process of communicating between geographic distances and allow for any information to be passed on easily. The internet along with ICT’s have become integrated parts of people's daily lives. Because technology and ICT’s have become so accessible to the public, those who do possess these type of technologies become increasingly active on the public social media platforms. The plus side of having rapid ways of passing on information is, “that time and space have disappeared as meaningful dimension to human thought and action” (Harvey, 299); the speeds at which ICTs overcome the geographic and time barriers, making location irrelevant in a great deal of ways. When ICT’s bring people from completely different walks of life and location into a space where they can communicate easily and reliably. For the Black Lives Matter movement the use of ICT’s was important method of informing large dispersed population, what the next group demonstration or social media demonstration. For Black Lives Matter social media, “was to convey information about the unfolding events. Before the mainstream media had caught up to what was happening, the mass of hashtagged tweets was a way of calling attention to an unreported incident of police brutality,”(Rosa, 6) or notifying participants of any plan to power the movement. ICT’s and the fast movement of information brought this movement first to a national platform, but to an international one as well.

    Besides the use of social media to push the movement beyond the geographic barriers it was successful in bringing about a lot of attention to the movement. Social media Platforms like Twitter and Facebook were crucial because, “organizers can push participatory media into wider circulation across platforms, creating public narratives that reach and involve diverse audiences. When people are invited to contribute to a broader narrative, it strengthens their identification with the movement, and over the long run increases the likelihood of successful outcomes” (Constanza-Chock, 68), which was the exact case for Black Lives Matter. The main facebook users and twitter users are sets of very populations, but the organizers were able to relay the same message but through different platforms. Because Facebook and Twitter are public social media outlets, public communities becomes very aware of the information people are passing on through these ICT’s. The large amount of people that become aware of the movement, the more likely that the message and cause they are fighting for will garner worldwide attention. If you look at facebook and Twitter and search different hashtags for Black Lives Matter, you are able to find so much content that it may be overwhelming; regardless, the social media platforms are successful in bringing awareness by sharing post on their public spaces for friends, family, and colleagues to see and join.  

    In the Black Lives Matter movement, a diverse population gathered  behind the organizers, and a large portion of the people who joined the movement were not black; it was the intersectionality of the movement that attracted followers. Large national media outlets are a main method of informing people and getting news around; often times the events are misconstrued and presented in a biased format. For Black Lives Matter, this was a problem because the news media outlets were promoting their own agenda in their reports; often times the problem was that demonstrators were portrayed as rioters, and downgraded from their positions as activists. In particular this highlighted how,  “people of color, women, sexual minorities, and other subaltern individuals possess less power within the media system, which has often represented them in stereotyped, limited ways” (Nakamura, 3). For media outlets in general, Black Lives Matter has represented a period in time where the media's portrayal of certain demonstrators/demonstrations are harder to misconstrue. Because there were so many demonstrator and supporters at a lot of these rallies, who had ICT’s and social media platforms, the immediate unfolding events were posted on a lot of these public social media outlets. The demonstrating population was able to garner a lot of self produced media coverage through social media; these media producers also brought a lot of attention to the movement with the use of hashtags to increase the overall discussion of Black Lives Matter. As Rosa reminds us, “social media participation becomes a key site from which to contest mainstream media silences and the long history of state-sanctioned violence against racialized populations”(Rosa, 12). If media outlets made an effort to portray demonstration participants in a negative light, the participants had the technology and media to disprove these claims and reaffirm the activism of the movement.

    Lastly, Black Lives matter was able to garner so much attention because of its ability to showcase the intersectionality of the movement. After diverse populations had become aware of Black Lives Matter through the social media outlets, they decided to join the movement because they were all connected by the police violence on blacks. Many people of color realized how their friends and families were in potential danger of being victimized by law enforcement; although blacks have been disproportionately affected by this treatment, people of color have also faced some of the same scrutinies. Because a lot of these populations have been historically marginalized, a great deal of them decided to join the cause in hopes of achieving a positive outcome to end police brutality on not only blacks, but all people of color as well. Although intersectionalities occur on different spectrums, the public social media outlets were able to rally  diverse populations because police brutality had affected their lives in one way or another.

    Over the course of history a number of events have affected people so deeply that they unite in efforts of creating some sort of change. Effective change occurred throughout different cultures when people are able to join together for a cause in solidarity and numbers. The steps towards achieving these goals can change over time, but the essence remains the same even after technologies and cultures change. For the Black Lives Matter movement, such accelerated information and communication technologies have helped the progress of their movement in more ways than one. Overall, this social movement lead by example and epitomizes how social movements can use ICT’s to better expand their movement by closing the geographic space-time barrier, using diverse platforms to communicate the message, and bringing together diverse people concerned with similar topics.




Costanza-Chock, Sasha. Out of the Shadows, into the Streets!: Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.


Bonilla, Y. and Rosa, J. “#Ferguson: Digital Protest, Hashtag Ethnography, and the Racial Politics of Social Media in the United States.” American Ethnologist, 42: 4–17.


Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990. Print.


Nakamura, Lisa. Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2008. Print.


Separate media Citation


"Shooting of Michael Brown." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 June 2016.


"Why Was Michael Brown Shot?" Vox. N.p., 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 09 June 2016.


Ozemebhoya, Diana. "Documents Released in the Ferguson Case." The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 09 June 2016.


Garza, Alicia. "A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement by Alicia Garza - The Feminist Wire." The Feminist Wire. N.p., 07 Oct. 2014. Web. 09 June 2016.

Hayden, Jen. "Watch What Happened on Twitter When the Darren Wilson Grand Jury Decision Was Announced." Daily Kos. N.p., 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 09 June 2016.

This page has paths: