Say Their Names: Resurgence in the collective attention toward Black victims of fatal police violence following the death of George Floyd

Henry H. Wu, Ryan J. Gallagher, Thayer Alshaabi, Jane L. Adams, Joshua R. Minot, Michael V. Arnold, Brooke Foucault Welles, Randall Harp, Peter Sheridan Dodds, Christopher M. Danforth
arXiv
arXiv:2106.10281
June 22, 2021

Abstract

The murder of George Floyd by police in May 2020 sparked international protests and renewed attention in the Black Lives Matter movement. Here, we characterize ways in which the online activity following George Floyd's death was unparalleled in its volume and intensity, including setting records for activity on Twitter, prompting the saddest day in the platform's history, and causing George Floyd's name to appear among the ten most frequently used phrases in a day, where he is the only individual to have ever received that level of attention who was not known to the public earlier that same week. Further, we find this attention extended beyond George Floyd and that more Black victims of fatal police violence received attention following his death than during other past moments in Black Lives Matter's history. We place that attention within the context of prior online racial justice activism by showing how the names of Black victims of police violence have been lifted and memorialized over the last 12 years on Twitter. Our results suggest that the 2020 wave of attention to the Black Lives Matter movement centered past instances of police violence in an unprecedented way, demonstrating the impact of the movement's rhetorical strategy to "say their names."

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