Ferguson and the Indictment of Social Media

by Iman Amrani

In the early hours of the morning I was propped up on the sofa, in front of the news (the channel is irrelevant, they were all showing it), phone in hand, Twitter open on #Ferguson. This story has swept the world into a frenzy. Across different time zones people were glued to their screens, waiting for the seemingly inevitable outcome. We have been here before.

When Bob McCulloch finally came out to speak to the public, his tone immediately signalled the result. He sounded like a man breaking up with his girlfriend, or firing an employee, as though his hands were tied and the result was inevitable. He tried not to sound like a representative of a severely flawed justice system that had just failed to deliver justice itself.

I was struck by what he said about the 24 hour news cycle and social media being the biggest challenges for the process. He spent a good part of his speech laying the blame for the tension at the feet of social media, and tried to paint it as a rumour factory full of inaccurate information and lies. A breeding ground for propaganda and misunderstanding:

“The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about, following closely behind with the non-stop rumors on social media”.

There was no acknowledgement for the genuine, justified anger which exists/existed off the Twittersphere. There was no recognition of the self-correcting nature of such an open platform. He did not mention that the main facts concerning the case were widely and accurately distributed: namely that an unarmed 18-year old black teenager received seven shots from a white policeman. This the day after the horror of the death of 12-year old Tamir Rice, also killed by a policeman. Twitter and social media provided a place for people to share information as it came out and modify it as they went along. Conflicting accounts were evident and open for people to access and have their own opinions about. The anger didn’t start there. It was there before the shooting and before Twitter even existed.

It was ironic to see how he was saying this as his announcement was trending on Twitter, being quoting word-for-word around the world. It was an easy way of putting some blame somewhere without having to direct it at an individual or the system that has clearly failed not just Michael Brown, his family and the African American community, but any believers in the need for justice, once again.

Social media has done impressive work engaging otherwise disillusioned young people in politics on an international scale. It enables activists to speak about issues from the Arab Spring, to police brutality, to corruption and brings daily awareness to issues that media houses deem unimportant. Whilst there are of course inaccuracies on social media, the awareness that it has raised about social issues, the law and individual rights is phenomenal.

I heard someone say once that Twitter is great for revolution but perhaps not evolution. I think there is an argument for that point if that’s what you’re looking for, but if used in the right way social media is actually a powerful tool for individuals to access and assess information from thousands of sources and it is ridiculous for McCulloch to try and deflect the blame for the violence at what is essentially just a platform for freedom of speech.

Today Twitter has served us perhaps more than the justice system. It would be unfair to blame it for the violence and unrest at least on the part of the protestors, the police are another matter. As I said before, what started that has been around for a lot longer than the internet.

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Iman is an Algerian British freelance journalist based in London. She has lived and worked in a Haitian settlement in the Dominican Republic as well as in Colombia. Her interests include social and racial issues in the African diaspora and the Middle East, and she can be found at @imaniamrani

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7 replies

  1. Need we as Black Americans say more ? This Ferguson is an injustice of what has been acted upon to Black America for many years . I would say to Facebook and Twitter Thank you very much . And most of all thank the LORD who has a way of using whatever is needed to expose evil for what it is . The rug has been snatched away from the dirt that was covered for many years . Social Media has become a tool for the world to see America in it’s true colors of Black And White . What kind of person would be so petty toward a kid’s life . How could you compare the value of Michael Brown’s life to his size , a cigar . and Jay walking . Here it is folks , to the world , America is not perfect . America continue struggle with issues of humanitarian values . We as Black America will continue to bow our knees and pray to the Almighty Jesus for a change to come .Justice will be served for the righteous in America .

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  2. After a brief read through of some of the documents provided to the Jury (available here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/11/25/us/evidence-released-in-michael-brown-case.html?_r=0 ) It seems very clear why they made their decision.

    I have not seen the truth of what happened on Social Media. The truth came out in the court of law. A criminal died for his crimes. He probably should have gone to jail instead but unfortunately that did not happen.

    Misinformation has been spread rapidly through social media, and this has lead to rioting and further crime.

    Social Media can have a positive role but in this story its impact has only been negative.

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    • There’s so much to unpick with this comment, but the most glaring the you said was the following:

      “A criminal died for his crimes”

      Not only does your use of the word “crimes” indicate you think Michael Brown committed multiple crimes, but since when has the death penalty been the legal punishment? It speaks volumes that the person who’s dead is branded as a criminal by you, rather than the person who did the killing. And it shows why the deaths of black people at the hands of police is still regarded as permissible behaviour by so many. Tanesha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley. All dead at the hands of police in the past 5 days.

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      • He did commit multiple crimes (He attacked a police officer, and also committed a robbery and assaulted the shop owner, I count 3).

        He was a criminal, that is what you call someone who commits crimes.

        He died because he attacked a police officer who reacted in the wrong way. If he did not attack the police officer he would not be dead. If the police officer had not shot him then he would not be dead.

        Not sure what I’ve said that is untrue or at all related to any other death by the hands of the police.

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        • And which of these crimes is punishable by the death penalty?

          The reason why it’s related to black death at the hands of police is evinced by Michael Brown not being arrested. He was shot multiple times. And Wilson didn’t shoot to stop him. He shot to kill him. Wilson – who is 6’4″ and weighs about 210 pounds – said when he grabbed Michael Brown’s arm, he felt like a 5 year old holding onto Hulk Hogan. Wilson also described him as a “demon”. But I’m sure you know all this. After all, you read documents provided to the jury, didn’t you?

          It’s related because Michael Brown wasn’t The Incredible Hulk. He wasn’t an MMA fighter. Yet somehow the only way to stop him was to shoot him. Multiple times. It’s related because black people are always assumed to be some hyperviolent hybrid of Bane and Jaws from the James Bond films.

          Or as Jesse Williams put it: “Blackness is like the big screen, it adds 10-100lbs, a gun and a carefully crafted script seen only through the eyes of the white hero.”

          What’s also interesting is that even with Wilson being acquitted, people still can’t be allowed to mourn and/or express their disgust without it being discredited. Why did you even feel the need to comment in the first place? You do know your guy won? Wilson isn’t even going to court.

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          • http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/21/police-shoot-kill-taser-force-experts-law

            Police in the US shoot to kill.

            Brown threatened to a sufficient level for Wilson to feel the need to shoot him. He shot to kill because his life was threatened. This is a part of the justice system.

            Similar to how you feel you should be allowed to be disgusted by the acquittal, I similarly am disgusted by the reaction of blaming society or looking for some kind of twisted racial or anti-youth motivation that simply does not exist. That’s why I commented.

            Not gonna reply to another comment, but thanks for the conversation. Hopefully someone gained something from it.

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            • I’m sure someone did. Not that it was needed, but this thread is further confirmation of why black youth continue to be killed with impunity. Because your view remains the consensus. It’s not seen as a problem.

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