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Activists discuss Twitter, Black Lives Matter

A panel discussed the rise of social media and the Black Lives Matter movement Monday night. Charlie Lee | Hatchet Staff Photographer
A panel discussed the rise of social media and the Black Lives Matter movement Monday night. Charlie Lee | Hatchet Staff Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Caroline Haskins.

The GW National Association of Black Journalists hosted a panel discussion about the relationship between social media and social justice activism Monday evening.

The panelists discussed the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the advantages and drawbacks of platforms like Twitter, and the differences between mainstream journalism and social media activism. Zinhle Essamuah, director of the documentary “Hands Up” and a member of the School of Media and Public Affair’s graduate program, moderated the discussion.

Here are the main takeaways:

1. The power of social media

Wesley Lowery, a Washington Post national reporter who was indicted while covering the protests in Ferguson in August 2014, said media coverage can impact social movements and can play a role in silencing or magnifying the voices of marginalized groups.

“We are placed historically as limiting access to power and to opportunity to people of color,” Lowery said.

Zellie Imani, the creator of, said the rise of social media activism has shifted control over the media narrative into the hands of the public.

“Before we were alienated from the narrative, alienated from participating, alienated from having our stories being heard or being shared,” Imani said. “[Social media] gave us a real sense of power and the ability to shape and create and control the narrative where before, we didn’t have that type of access.”

Martese Johnson, a published social justice advocate and senior at the University of Virginia, shared his story of being racially targeted and attacked by police after a misunderstanding regarding his new driver’s license at a bar.

Johnson’s story was quickly picked up by national news organizations and Twitter, and panelists said the quick rise of his story is an example of how activist journalism has changed since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

2. A gender gap

The all-male panel spoke to an audience that was about 75 percent female, and agreed that female journalists and social justice advocates face heightened challenges and harassment compared to their male colleagues.

Lowery said a female colleague of his was recently mailed a blackface doll and that his male coworkers don’t see the same level of harassment.

“Women, especially women of color, who are working in these spaces don’t necessarily receive the same shine,” Lowery said. “The media is, in and of itself, an institution that faces all of these same systemic problems that we’re seeing so many activists talk about.”

3. The challenges of social media activism

Lowery said because words can easily be taken out of context and dissected, it is important for activists to be clear about their message so it can impact those with no knowledge of social justice issues.

Sam White, a social justice advocate and influencer, added that it is important to be mindful of one’s privilege and to not speak for the groups advocates are trying to support – a factor he has been conscious of as a white advocate for racial justice.

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