#Ferguson is Everywhere: Initiators in Emerging Counterpublic Networks

Jackson, S. and Foucault Welles, B.
Information, Communication and Society
19(3), 397-418.
December 29, 2015


On the afternoon of 9 August 2014, 18-year-old Michael "Mike" Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri. Brown's body lay in the street for four and a half hours, and during that time, his neighbors and friends took to social media to express fear, confusion, and outrage. We locate early tweets about Ferguson and the use of the hashtag #Ferguson at the center of a counterpublic network that provoked and shaped public debates about race, policing, governance, and justice. Extending theory on networked publics, we examine how everyday citizens, followed by activists and journalists, influenced the #Ferguson Twitter network with a focus on emergent counterpublic structure and discursive strategy. We stress the importance of combining quantitative and qualitative methods to identify early initiators of online dissent and story framing. We argue that initiators and their discursive contributions are often missed by methods that collapse longitudinal network data into a single snapshot rather than investigating the dynamic emergence of crowdsourced elites over time.

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